Bulgarian soldiers prepare
to board an aircraft at Krumovo airfield, some 150 kilometers (93 miles)
east of Sofia, in this Aug. 11, 2003 file photo. Bulgaria and Ukraine,
two of America's allies in Iraq are withdrawing their forces this month
and a half-dozen others are debating possible pullouts or reductions,
increasing pressure on Washington as calls mount to bring U.S. troops
home. (AP Photo/File)
Two of America's allies in Iraq are withdrawing forces this month and
a half-dozen others are debating possible pullouts or reductions, increasing
pressure on Washington as calls mount to bring home U.S. troops.
Bulgaria and Ukraine will begin withdrawing their combined 1,250 troops
by mid-December. If Australia, Britain, Italy, Japan, Poland and South Korea
reduce or recall their personnel, more than half of the non-American forces
in Iraq could be gone by next summer.
Japan and South Korea help with reconstruction, but Britain and Australia provide
substantial support forces and Italy and Poland train Iraqi troops and police.
Their exodus would deal a blow to American efforts to prepare Iraqis to take
over the most dangerous peacekeeping tasks and craft an eventual U.S. exit strategy.
"The vibrations of unease from within the United States clearly have an
impact on public opinion elsewhere," said Terence Taylor of the International
Institute for Strategic Studies in Washington. "Public opinion in many
of these countries is heavily divided."
Although the nearly 160,000-member U.S. force in Iraq dwarfs the second-largest
contingent — Britain's 8,000 in Iraq and 2,000 elsewhere in the Gulf region
— its support has shrunk substantially.
In the months after the March 2003 invasion, the multinational force numbered
about 300,000 soldiers from 38 countries. That figure is now just under 24,000
mostly non-combat personnel from 27 countries. The coalition has steadily unraveled
as the death toll rises and angry publics clamor for troops to leave.
In the spring, the Netherlands had 1,400 troops in Iraq. Today, there are 19,
including a lone Dutch soldier in Baghdad.
Ukraine's remaining 876 troops in Iraq are due home by Dec. 31, fulfilling
a campaign pledge by President Viktor Yushchenko. Bulgaria is pulling out its
380 troops after Dec. 15 parliamentary elections, Defense Minister Veselin Bliznakov
In his strategy for Iraq, announced Wednesday, President Bush said expanding
international support was one of his goals. He also seemed to address the issue
of more allies withdrawing.
"As our posture changes over time, so too will the posture of our coalition
partners," the document says. "We and the Iraqis must work with them
to coordinate our efforts, helping Iraq to consolidate and secure its gains
on many different fronts."
Struggling to shore up the coalition, Bush stopped in Mongolia on his recent
Asia trip and praised its force of about 120 soldiers in Iraq as "fearless
At least 2,109 U.S. service personnel have died since the beginning of the
Iraq war, according to an Associated Press count. At least 200 troops from other
countries also have died, including 98 from Britain. Other tolls: Italy, 27;
Ukraine, 18; Poland, 17; Bulgaria, 13; Spain, 11; Slovakia, three; Denmark,
El Salvador, Estonia, Netherlands, Thailand, two each; Hungary, Kazakhstan,
Latvia, one each.
Underscoring mounting opposition in nearly all coalition countries, a poll
published in Japan's Asahi newspaper this week showed 69 percent of respondents
opposed extending the mission, up from 55 percent in January. No margin of error
Japan's Kyodo News service reported Wednesday that Prime Minister Junichiro
Koizumi's Cabinet would decide Dec. 8 to allow its 600 troops to stay for another
year, but it could decide later to withdraw troops around May.
A British drawdown would be the most dramatic.
Although Prime Minister Tony Blair's government insists there is no timetable
and British forces will leave only when Iraqi troops can take over, Defense
Secretary John Reid suggested last month that a pullout could begin "in
the course of the next year."
South Korea, the second-largest coalition partner after Britain, is expected
to withdraw about 1,000 of its 3,200 troops in the first half of 2006. The National
Assembly is likely to vote on the matter this month.
Italy's military reportedly is preparing to give parliament a timetable for
a proposed withdrawal of its 2,800 troops. Premier Silvio Berlusconi's government
has said it plans to withdraw forces in groups of 300, but in accordance with
the Iraqi government and coalition allies.
Poland's former leftist government, which lost Sept. 25 elections, had planned
to withdraw its 1,400 troops in January. The new defense minister, Radek Sikorski,
visits Washington this weekend for talks on Poland's coalition plans, and the
new government is expected to decide by mid-December whether to extend its mission
beyond Dec. 31.
"Some formula of advisory-stabilizing mission could remain on a smaller
scale, of course, and our commanders are prepared for several variants,"
Col. Zdzislaw Gnatowski of the Polish army's general staff told The Associated
Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, head of the Australian Defense Force, has
said about 450 troops in the southern province of Muthanna could leave by May.
Australia has about 900 troops and support staff across Iraq.
Many coalition members have pledged to stay in Iraq for all of 2006; at least
one, Lithuania, has committed to the end of 2007. And the coalition is still
drawing new members, most recently Bosnia, which sent 36 bomb-disposal experts
"We are getting letters of gratitude from the U.S. commanders for our
peacekeepers' excellent service," said Ilgar Verdiyev, a Defense Ministry
spokesman in Azerbaijan, which has 150 troops in Iraq and is one of the few
mostly Muslim countries to contribute.
Associated Press writers Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and Ryan Lucas in Warsaw,
Poland, contributed to this report.