Polish Iraq Rumblings

The current crisis concerning the situation in Iraq (e.g. continuing open rebellion, uncertain transitional government to which to “transfer sovereignty” on 30 June, just to name a few of the headline things) is hardly going unnoticed in Poland. This is another country which has significant numbers of troops on the ground there, in fact right at the main hot spots, i.e. in the Shiite-dominated south. Back in the early days of the occupation – back when sectors were being chosen for Coalition allies – that area was considered a safe bet to stay “cold.” After all, the country’s Shiite majority had long been oppressed particularly egregiously by Saddam, no?, and so should be particularly grateful and cooperative in the aftermath of his toppling. But that’s just another aspect that has gone wrong with the “plan” – and while we’re on that topic, check out this.

I thought about making this entry the latest in €S’ “Poles in Iraq” series (it would be entry number X – yes, we number them here like the NFL numbers the Super Bowls), but that’s not quite going to fit.

You see, the first thing I’d like to mention is financier George Soros’ piece in yesterdays Rzeczpospolita entitled Victims Turned Perpetrators. He is speaking here of course of the American people, transformed by their reaction to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks from initial victims to the perpetrators responsible for creating many more victims than the 3,000 who died at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. “This fact is not recognized at home because the victims of the war on terror are not Americans. But the rest of the world does not draw the same distinction and world opinion has turned against us.” Or perhaps the money quote: “If this continues [i.e. the American public’s confidence in George W. Bush’s capability on national security matters] and President Bush gets re-elected, we must ask ourselves the question: ‘what is wrong with us?’ The question needs to be asked even if he is defeated because we cannot simply ignore what we have done since 11 September.”

But you can review Soros’ piece yourself, in English, here on the openDemocracy website, for example. I have to say, I had to invoke our mutual pal Google to find the original English version – in fact, I had already printed out the Rzeczpospolita piece to translate it for myself in its entirety so as to brief you on it fully. I thus saved myself in the nick of time from this particular struggle with those infamous Polish irregular verbs, but my real point is that it’s not like the piece was made available in any more-prominent media outlet, say the op-Ed pages of any of the major American dailies. Luckily, it was made available in one of most respected Polish dailies; so that at least can alert us to its very existence, and can send those of us who don’t read Polish to our favorite search-engine to find an English version.

POLISH PRISONER ABUSE?

Then there is the dispute that has just surfaced over whether Polish soldiers also mistreated Iraqi prisoners under their detention. This is covered in Gazeta Wyborcza: Alleged Mistreatment of Iraqis by Poles. (Curious: that headline does not specify “prisoners.”) The allegations were published on Friday: the Associated Press cited reports carried on the Arabic broadcaster Al-Jazeera, that “Poles as well mistreated prisoners in Abu Ghraib,” and then added information from the US Army’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID), from a certain Sgt. Antonio Monserrate (currently a suspect in the American abuse cases), that two Iraqis had been delivered to Abu Ghraib who “had been wounded” by Polish troops. The CID also reported that other Iraqis had complained about their treatment at the hands of Coalition soldiers who were not Americans.

The initial Polish government response: “Impossible!” “I’m indignant [oburzony],” exclaimed Gen. Mieczyslaw Bieniek, commander of the multinational division stationed there in Southern Iraq. Speaking of the conditions for prisoners held by the Poles he claimed “those are tents with air-conditioning, there are showers, a doctor, three meals a day, [in short] better conditions than some of our soldiers have.” Vice-chief of staff (presumably of that same multinational division) Gen. Mieczyslaw Cieniuch wondered how Polish soldiers even got the opportunity to abuse their captives, saying “we only detain those whom we catch with weapons in their hands. So really it could come to a little scuffling [szarpaniny], but not mistreatment. We usually turn them over to the Iraqi police, only seldom to the Americans.”

What’s more, Gazeta reports, this controversy has already reached the point that a statement from the US military attaché at the embassy in Warsaw on the issue was read before the Sejm, the Polish parliament, by none other than Minister of Defense Jerzy Szmajdzinski. The statement seemed to absolve Polish forces in the American view; it stated that US authorities were aware of no complaints about Polish treatment of prisoners, and notes that Sgt. Monserrate’s statements are still unverified. (In any case, the statement noted, Sgt. Monserrate actually spoke not of two “wounded” Iraqis but merely of two “beaten” [poturbowanych] Iraqis. Huh?)

Still, Gazeta’s article notes, what has been broadcast about Poles on Al-Jazeera is already out, so there goes the reputation of Polish troops in Arab eyes as well. As Gen. Bieniek complained, “It’s unfortunate: now everyone who is held – and they’re generally no angels – will be able to say that Polish soldiers treated them badly.”

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