Polish troops could stay in Iraq beyond 2006, thinks defense minister

Defense Minister Radek Sikorski suggested Friday that Polish troops could stay in Iraq beyond their current deadline of December 2006, saying Poland is committed to the mission's "full success." "Everything depends on the situation's development and what the Iraqis and our American allies will ask us for," Sikorski was quoted as telling the Rzeczpospolita daily in an interview.

Asked whether Polish troops could still be in Iraq in 2007, he said "one could well imagine that our forces could link up with the NATO training group."

Last week, President Lech Kaczynski approved extending the Iraq mission until the end of this year, reversing the previous government's decision to bring troops home this month. The decision was made despite the mission's public unpopularity.

However, Polish forces will be scaled down from the current 1,400 troops to 900 by mid-February. "Our goal is to hand over the Polish zone to well-trained Iraqi troops," Sikorski said.

"It matters to us that the mission finish a full success," he added. "We've put in so much money and political capital, that we want to be able to say that Poland contributed to the rise of an Arab democracy and a better Iraq."

The previous left-wing government was frequently criticized for failing to lock up lucrative contracts for Iraq's rebuilding. However, Sikorski, a member of the new conservative government that took power in November, praised the increased Polish-American political cooperation that has resulted from Poland's participation in Iraq, reports the AP. I.L.

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