After considerable time, effort, and expense (see previous posts for the details), my Polish has been considerably re-charged. And just in time, too: this first week in August marks the deployment of Polish troops to the Middle East, to eventually take up security duties in the assigned Polish security sector in Iraq. To be more specific, the Polish troops first fly to Kuwait – starting today, 4 August – to start with two weeks of acclimatization. Then they will join the 400 Polish troops already in Iraq for some military exercises. Finally, around 3 September they will begin formally taking up security responsibility for their assigned sector, in central Iraq to the north of Babylon. The International Division in charge of that sector, under Polish command, will number some 9,300 troops of 25 different nationalities.
For me, this offers a fascinating parallel phenomenon to the experiences of the American and British troops already present in Iraq and trying to bring some security and rebuilding to that country. So I think it might be interesting, for me and for the burgeoning ranks of my beloved readers, to start a semi-regular “Iraq Watch” feature in which I try to report from the Polish press on current Polish attitudes to what their troops are doing over there. As we know too well, things are going rather less well than expected for the American troops, who have been dying in low but regular numbers (to accidents, but also rather often as the result of deliberate attacks) since major combat there ceased back in April. For British troops, too, I hasten to add. Similar difficulties for the Poles seem inevitable. Indeed, last Thursday as President Alkesander Kwasniewski was bidding the troops farewell at two different, widely-separated military bases in Poland, someone was already mortaring a Polish base inside Iraq – but causing no casualties or even material damage, according to the BBC World Service report.
Poland is new at this sort of thing; actually, as I remember how it was expressed in a commentary I heard on Polish radio, the Poles are different from the Brits and the Americans in that their history (and particularly their recent history) has in fact been one of being the occupied, not the occupier. Will this matter? Might this make them more sensitive to the plight of local Iraqis, and so able to enjoy better, more peaceful relations with them? Poland is new to NATO, new to overseas deployments; make no mistake that there is doubt out there as to whether they are up to the assignment, notwithstanding the help they will be provided by twenty-four other nation-friends. Of course, I wish them well, but the Polish deployment should still be rather interesting to observe – starting from the assertion in one picture caption that those troops will surely be over there for (only) six months – and I invite you to look over my shoulder as I do so. (more…)