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Last Updated: Monday, 4 October, 2004, 14:37 GMT 15:37 UK
Poland could withdraw Iraq troops
Polish troops in Iraq
Polish troops head a multinational division in south-central Iraq
Poland could withdraw all its troops from Iraq next year, President Aleksander Kwasniewski has said.

He said Poland could pull out at the end of 2005, but he stressed that no final decision had been taken.

Earlier, there was confusion when Poland's defence minister said troops should be home by next December, but other government figures demurred.

Warsaw, a staunch ally of the US in Iraq, sent 2,400 troops and commands a multinational force of 6,000.

After talks with French President Jacques Chirac in Paris, Mr Kwasniewski said the circumstances in Iraq would change from January, when elections are due.

'Examining options'

"That is the reason why we decided to speak with the Iraqis and with our coalition partners, the United States, about a reduction of the Polish forces from 1 January and maybe to finish our mission at the end of 2005," he said.

But he went on to say: "There has been no decision to pull out completely... we are examining our options."

Earlier, Defence Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski said the troops should return home when UN authorisation for the current mission expires in December 2005.

In an interview with Polish radio, Mr Szmajdzinski said: "I hope that the situation in Iraq will allow us to carry out our plan to withdraw our units.

"We do not have such a major army as the United States or Britain to allow us to have limitless possibilities."

Divisions emerge

It was the first time anyone in the government had suggested a timetable for withdrawing the troops.

But the prime minister distanced himself from the remarks, and Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz said: "We have to grit our teeth and be consistent. Poland, which in the past has so often been betrayed by its allies, would not like to betray for the first time its ally."

Mr Szmajdzinski later said he had been giving a "personal view".

The government's coalition partner, the Labour Union, has been demanding a pull-out date for the troops.

The government faces a vote of confidence next month, and elections in the middle of next year.

Opinion polls suggest more than 70% of Poles are opposed to the presence of their country's troops in Iraq.

Seventeen Polish nationals have died in Iraq, including 13 soldiers and four civilians.


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