Dutch Ministry of Defense Discovers It’s Hot in Iraq

That battalion of marines that makes up the core of the 1,164 Dutch troops on occupation duty in southern Iraq will be going home earlier than originally planned – after four months, rather than after six. The NRC Handelsblad, along with several of its competitors in the Dutch press yesterday revealed this latest decision from the Ministry of Defense. The reason? It turns out it can get awful hot in Iraq, with temperatures climbing to 45 or even 50 degrees Centigrade (that’s 113 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit);as a result it would be “not responsible,” according to the Ministry, to make the marines stay there for the full six months.

But don’t worry – this does not mean that Holland has unilaterally cut short its occupation service in Iraq by two months, since new troops will be flown out to replace those marines after their shortened four months of duty there. The Dutch commitment to such occupation remains the six months that was agreed, with an option for extending that by another six months. (None of the reports that I saw would reveal whose decision it is whether to invoke that six-month extension option – the Netherlands, or her allies? You could reason that this cutting-back of the marines’ stay makes it more likely that that extension will in fact be invoked, if only because it doesn’t make much sense to send the replacement troops out there to have them stay for only two months.)

If you think about it, the logic of this move might be somewhat questionable. Yes, temperatures in Iraq routinely get up in the forties, but that’s during the summer. The Netherlands (and therefore its marines) just started its tour of duty in Iraq (taking over from the Americans in al-Muthanna province down along the border with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait) at the end of July, so the troops will be going home at the end of November instead at the end of January. I myself have been in that area of the world from January to May (in connection with the earlier Gulf War), so I know that in the winter months it can get downright cold there. So the marines have been spared two months – namely December and January – when the heat which is the supposed cause of all this is not bothersome at all! In this light, they’re being withdrawn earlier only indirectly due to the heat – not so that they don’t have to face additional fearsome desert heat, but rather as some sort of reward for having withstood it when it was at its worst back in August (and, probably, in September; they have no choice, of course, as military men, but to stay there and face it then).

But the Dutch press doesn’t get into this calculus, and instead accepts the reasoning that it gets really hot in Iraq and so the marines should come home earlier. What it gets worked up about is that the ministerie van Defensie is only finding out about this heat now. The account in the Algemeen Dagblad digs particularly deep into the Ministry’s supposed lack of foresight. Spokesmen for the VBM/NOV – yes, folks, the Dutch army’s union – are particularly tiffed over the fact that these high temperatures were brought up at hearings over the then-proposed Netherlands deployment to Iraq in the Tweede Kamer, the Netherlands’ lower house of parliament. In fact, it was proposed to limit any set of troops’ deployment there to three months. After all, the British, Danes, and Italians, who also have troops in that part of the country, had already made it clear that they would rotate their troops there for periods shorter than six months. But no mention of high temperatures was made in the report of the fact-finding mission the Ministry of Defense had sent to Iraq, so the six month tour-of-duty was approved by legislators.

Now blazing hot reality has set in in southern Iraq, and at least Dutch military officials are showing enough flexibility to change their planning at this late point. But this willingness to wave off what should be the obvious also makes union officials nervous when it comes to the debris from depleted uranium ammunition in southern Iraq, mainly from the first Gulf War, and the radiation-exposure hazards it could present. Both defense minister Kamp and foreign minister De Hoop Scheffer, in response to questions from the Tweede Kamer, have denied that the danger exists. Union officials think differently, but it seems can do nothing about it.

As for the temperature question, minister Kamp’s defense spokesman explained to the press “It is quite normal that during a military mission you come to new insights and then act accordingly.” Hmm. Anyway, according to the NRC, there’s a minor silver-lining in this for the Ministry of Defense: a six-month deployment would have mandated two weeks of vacation for the troops during that time, which would have led to problems in manning all the Dutch occupation duty commitments. With only a four-month stay, that’s not required. You’ve got to keep a sharp eye out for considerations like this, you see, when you’ve got that soldiers’ union always looking over your shoulder.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Comments are closed.