Coalition Members Look for an Exit
P resident Bush has vowed not to "cut and run" in Iraq until the mission is accomplished and the Iraqi army can stand up. No need to even discuss a large drawdown next year of the kind the weak-kneed Democrats are demanding.
But a number of countries in the 22,000-strong Coalition of the Willing appear ready to "snip-and-slide" out of Iraq in the next few months with more going by the end of next year, according to news reports from coalition member countries.
For example, European media last week were reporting that the British, with 8,500 troops in Iraq, by far the largest allied contingent, were completing exit plans for a phased withdrawal starting as early as the middle of 2006.
Prime Minister Tony Blair dutifully repeated the "job is done" mantra but said that "it's entirely reasonable to talk about the possibility of withdrawal of troops next year." (We knew Blair would drift off-message one of these days.) Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Vice President Adel Abdul Madi were in London saying a 2006 timetable sounds about right.
The South Koreans, who have the next-highest number of troops, 3,200, are clearly in drawdown mode. Bush administration officials seemed surprised last week when South Korea's defense minister announced 1,000 troops would be withdrawn soon, even though this was leaked by a "senior government official" to the Korea Times on Oct. 28. More withdrawals may come next year, the Yonhap News Agency reported Nov. 5, adding that President Roh Moo Hyun "has linked the troop contribution to Seoul's efforts to enlist Washington's help in dealing with North Korea."
The fourth-largest deployment, Italy's 3,000 troops, is starting to withdraw in groups of 300 likely in the first half of 2006, according to a Nov. 12 Associated Press report.
The Rzeczpospolita daily, citing army sources, reported that Poland, the fifth-largest coalition member, would cut its 1,500 troops by more than a third starting in February.
Ukraine's 900 troops, the sixth-largest group, could be leaving by the end of this year, according to a Nov. 10 Agence France-Presse report, though Estonia's reportedly keeping its 39-member contingent until the end of next year. Bulgaria, according to a report carried by the Bulgarian news agency BGNES, will be withdrawing about 400 to 450 troops after the Dec. 15 Iraqi elections.
Earlier this month the Australian, quoting the Yomiuri Shimbun, reported that the 500 noncombatant Japanese soldiers in southern Iraq could start leaving in May, which would clear the way for the departure of the Australian troops guarding them. The Australian reported that, with the training of two Iraqi army battalions due to be complete by May, Australia was considering a mid-2006 pullout for its 450-strong force in the Al Muthanna district.
Georgia, with about 850 troops in Iraq -- including 550 providing security for the U.N. mission in Baghdad -- is standing firm, and AFP reported Romania's 730 troops are also staying. Denmark has 530 troops near Basra under British command and, we were told yesterday, the Danes are "staying the course" through next year.
Finally, El Salvador, with 380 troops, is awaiting a decision by President Elias Antonio Saca about future deployments, La Prensa reported Nov. 18. That decision surely will have nothing to do with whether the Bush administration renews a grant of Temporary Protected Status for 250,000 Salvadorans working in this country who could otherwise be deported.
The remaining coalition members have barely more than 1,000 troops in Iraq total. So if news reports on the top dozen or so prove accurate, the 22,000 coalition forces could be reduced by 25 percent or more by the end of 2006. If the British draw down, it might be reduced by half or more.