Poles in Iraq IX: Spanish Withdrawal Reaction

Whether it constitutes a shameful retreat in the face of terrorist attack, or an angry reaction to an incumbent government trying to twist the facts surrounding a national tragedy to its own ends – we’ve already covered all of that here, at least from the German point-of-view, and it doesn’t matter anymore, since José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is now the Spanish premier as of last weekend and the Spanish troops will withdraw from Iraq. What is new and interesting is what Zapatero and his Defense Minister, José Bono, promptly announced with almost unseemly haste just after assuming office: that they will withdraw those as soon as possible. You might remember that, in the wake of the 11 March Madrid train bombings and the victory of Zapatero’s Socialist Party in the ensuing Spanish general election, the new prospect of the Spanish troop withdrawal was at least couched in the fig leaf that such a withdrawal would be canceled if operations in Iraq were put under a proper United Nations basis by the passing of a suitable UN Security Council resolution. Now that fig leaf is tossed aside: the Spanish troops are basically outa there, and as fast as possible consistent with security concerns, meaning in effect in six weeks or even less. George W. Bush is not pleased.

Spanish troops now make up the third-largest national contingent in the Polish-assigned sector in southern Iraq – once thought to be a quiet backwater since the area is dominated by Shiites, but now containing some hot spots indeed, like Najaf and Karbala. (So reports Gazeta Wyborcza, without naming contingents numbers 1 and 2 – I’m guessing that those are the American and Polish troops, respectively.) So how do the Polish authorities feel about the Spanish action? Let’s take a look at their national press.


Rzeczpospolita contributes to the coverage with a timely interview with Polish Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski – if you can call it that, since it consists of just one question, but it’s a good one: “Did the decision of the Spanish premier to withdraw soldiers from Iraq as soon as possible surprise the Polish government?” The essence of Szmajdzinski’s answer is “Yes.” The Polish government was still counting on that “fig leaf,” meaning that it expected the Spanish decision whether to really withdraw or not to come rather later, namely after two or three months, and what’s more was really counting on an appropriate new Security Council resolution to come along in time to save the day. The Americans and British were both working towards that, Szmajdzinski asserts. Despite the Spanish decision, that resolution might still come along, and in the interview the Polish Defense Minister expresses his hope that its passage will spur other countries to step forward and contribute (more) troops to Iraq occupation duty to fill in the gap left by the Spanish.

General Mieczyslaw Bieniek, commander of the Polish sector, is there on the scene in Iraq, face-to-face with reality on the ground, and so – thank goodness! – rather more realistic than his civilian boss about the prospect of getting any country (except perhaps the US) to contribute more troops there. Recent discussions he had with journalists at the Polish Camp Babilon on the Spanish pull-out form the core of an article in Dziennik Polski entitled Retreat of the Spanish. He admitted that the Spanish action is going to be difficult to deal with; after all, the Spanish were responsible for two out of the sector’s five provinces (namely Najaf and Kadisiya, although nowadays there is a strong American presence also, especially around Najaf city). What’s more, previous contingency planning for this withdrawal envisaged the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps being able to fill any such gap, but the recent performance of these troops as the fighting has gotten heavy has dispelled any notions that they are up to that job. Indeed, the crumbling of most of those units in the face of the Shiite rebellion lead by Mukhtada as-Sadr has created a forces gap of its own.


One thing is a given: that none of the countries currently stationing forces in the Polish zone intend to add more troops to make up for the loss of the Spaniards, the Poles included. So a number of re-shufflings of forces are now under consideration at Coalition headquarters for filling the gap. An article on this subject in Rzeczpospolita has General Bieniek asserting that Spain’s withdrawal will probably not pull along with it the associated troop contingents from El Salvador, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic, which altogether number an additional 1,400 soldiers – but unfortunately that has turned out to be wrong in two-out-of-three (registration required). Indeed, Gazeta Wyborcza reports that the Portuguese might withdraw, too, for what that is worth: their contingent in Iraq currently numbers only 128 gendarmes – i.e. mere policemen – stationed under the British in Nasariyah.

By the way, at the bottom of this article on the Spanish withdrawal in Rzeczpospolita there is a brief treatment of Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski’s appearance in Bob Woodward’s latest book, Plan of Attack. Woodward reports that Kwasniewski was assuring President Bush as early as January 14, 2003 of the participation of Polish troops in any attack on Iraq. But at the same time he inquired about what would be the further consequences of victory there, and also about the role the UN would play. Rz records Bush as giving a platitudinous answer that did not address Kwasniewski’s concerns, i.e. giving him a taste of what it’s like to be at one of the (American) President’s rarely-scheduled news conferences. But perhaps this is merely the fault of the Rz editor, who paired an inappropriate statement from the President with Kwasniewski’s question; in any event, I’ll not repeat the answer here, you can follow the link and go and read it in Polish yourself, at the bottom of the article.

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.