WARSAW, Poland (AP) -- Poland, a key U.S. ally in Iraq, should withdraw its troops from the Mideast nation at the end of next year, Poland's defense minister said in an interview published Monday. It was the first time a Polish official has indicated when Warsaw might end its presence in Iraq.
Jerzy Szmajdzinski argued that 2 1/2 years in Iraq would be "enough" for the Polish military, and said his suggestion was aimed at countering "cheap populism" by opponents of the Polish presence. Prime Minister Marek Belka said he had not been consulted on the remarks and would meet Szmajdzinski later Monday, Poland's PAP news agency reported.
"In my opinion, the deadline (for Poland's mission) should be the date of expiry of the U.N. Security Council's resolution 1546," Szmajdzinski was quoted as telling the Gazeta Wyborcza daily. That resolution provided for the handover of power to Iraqi authorities, with steps that run through the end of next year.
Poland last year took command of a multinational security force in central Iraq that currently includes about 6,000 troops - among them more than 2,400 Polish soldiers. Leaders have previously said they hope to scale down the Polish presence significantly after parliamentary elections in Iraq scheduled for January.
Szmajdzinski said a mission of 2 1/2 years in "such difficult conditions" was a major challenge for a former Warsaw Pact army that is still "reaching new capabilities and introducing new equipment."
"It is enough," he said. "It is a rational period of time."
Still, Szmajdzinski said that, if a new international mission is approved beyond December 2005, "a group of some officers would most probably remain in staff offices, in training centers, maybe also a group of observers."
The Iraq mission has broad mainstream political support. However, a leading member of Belka's junior coalition partner, the Labor Union, has called on Belka to present a plan for the withdrawal of Polish troops from Iraq ahead of the vote.