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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 March, 2003, 22:59 GMT
Polish forces criticised for flag photos
By Jan Repa
BBC News Online

Polish troops prepare for Iraq
The Polish presence should be low key, leaders say

Poland's defence minister has criticised a special operations commando unit for posing for photographs with American soldiers after fighting in southern Iraq.

The minister, Jerzy Szmajdzinski, said members of the elite Grom unit should have remained under cover.

Polish newspapers have been full of photos of "our boys" - handing over Iraqi prisoners to the Americans, defacing a portrait of Saddam Hussein and smiling to camera under an American flag.

Mr Szmajdzinski says they should have kept themselves out of the limelight - or at the very least have used a Polish flag.

In fact, Grom's cover had already been blown by US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld who said on Sunday that the US-UK assault force was being actively supported by troops from Australia and Poland.

'America's best friend'

The Polish Prime Minister, Leszek Miller, has said that Polish troops were getting "very good marks" for a number of successful operations.

Asked if Poland was at war with Iraq, Foreign Minister, Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz is quoted as saying that Poland was fighting Saddam Hussein's regime - not the Iraqi people.

Having joined Nato four years ago, Poland - the largest of the former Soviet satellites - has been keen to show itself to be "America's best friend in Central Europe".

It recently placed a large order for American F-16 warplanes despite strong competition from the French and an Anglo-Swedish consortium.

Divided opinion

While most of the Polish army is outdated and reliant on old Soviet-era weaponry, the elite Grom commandos are seen as a possible sign of things to come.

They served with the 1994 US-led mission in Haiti, in former Yugoslavia, and, more recently, in Afghanistan.

Polish opinion is divided over the Iraq war.

Polls suggest only one-fifth of Poles think their troops should be involved in the actual fighting.

However, an informal sounding carried out by the popular current affairs weekly Wprost (Say it Straight) this week suggested 90% in favour of moving US military bases to Poland and 85% in favour of disbanding the United Nations.


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