When we started a series of articles about Europe versus war in Iraq it was Spring of 2003. Since then a situation in Iraq changed completely. The war is over but the peaceful mission in Iraq did not finished yet. Iraq even without Saddam Hussein is still a very unstable and dangerous place. Polish president - Aleksander Kwasniewski was in Washington in January 2004 and met with USA president George Bush. We will talk about political and especially about economical results of his visit in the next article. Let me here focus on Polish military mission in Iraq.
The agreement for deployment of a Polish military force was announced in May but the first soldiers started leaving to Iraq in the beginning of July 2003 aboard two U.S. transport aircrafts.
Poland along with the USA and Great Britain - heads a military zone in Iraq. The Polish zone was established in a Shiite region between Baghdad ruled by Americans and AL-Basrah ruled by British. The ceremony of symbolic transfer of powers took place in early September 2003 in the ancient city of Babylon as a sign of the international community's commitment. The Polish base is named after a place - a base of Babylon. The transferred zone was smaller than initially planned - about 80,000 square kilometers (31,000 square miles) since the part of the zone - a holy city of Najaf, was still too dangerous to be left completely by U.S. Marines.
The military zone under Polish leadership is multinational - with Poles contributing about 2,300 troops and about twenty other countries - among them Ukraine and Spain with over a thousand troops. Here is a list of some other countries contributing military forces which operate in Polish zone: Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Thailand, Philippines, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras. Altogether there are about 9,200 thousands soldiers in Poland-led force. There are still some American soldiers stationed in the Polish operated zone.
In this operation Poland is subordinate to the United States politically and dependent on it for financing the operation (2/3 of costs for Polish soldiers is financed by the USA and 1/3 by Poland). The establishment of a zone is aimed at creating the idea of the coalition participating in Iraqi's war and rebuilding rather than the Iraq's being purely under American occupation. The current USA forces in Iraq are about 130,000 soldiers (January 2004).
The are some casualties in a Polish zone - the first Polish soldier died in a combat was announced in November 2003. Major Hieronim Kupczyk was killed when a Polish convoy of four military vehicles came under a fire from unknown attackers. Another Polish soldier was killed by an accident. There are also casualties among Ukrainian soldiers.
Some foreign observers are questioning whether Poland and Polish military is prepared to be in command of a military zone in Iraq. Also some Poles are questioning whether Poland should take such active place outside of Europe. They believe that Poland is not a world player and should limit its interests only to Europe, especially since Poland is joining European Europe in May 2004.
No doubt, leading of the military zone is a major test for the Polish army, which has modernized considerably since communism collapsed in 1989 but is still run mainly by generals educated in Soviet military academies. This is a biggest Polish military operation since the end of the World War II. Opinion surveys show that Poles have ambiguous feelings towards sending soldiers to Iraq is spite of the fact that the Polish government staunchly backed the U.S.-led war. Although Polish soldiers admire military experience of their American counterparts who are very well trained, they were told not necessarily follow Americans in their interaction with local people- since Americans are seen in Iraq as a bit arrogant and also ignorant of a local culture and tradition.
Polish government also hopes that sending Polish troops would help renewing its extensive business ties in Iraq from 70-es and 80-es when Polish engineers and construction workers were building roads and factories.
Of Paradise and Power: America Vs. Europe in the New World Order by Robert Kagan.