By Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
The Coalition of the Willing appears to be going out of business.
President Bush tucked a little extra news yesterday into a speech largely devoted to informing the public that he plans to withdraw 8,000 more troops from Iraq: He also announced that most of the countries that have been partnering with the United States in Iraq over the past five years will be pulling their troops out as well.
"Australia has withdrawn its battle group, the Polish contingent is set to redeploy shortly, and many more coalition nations will be able to conclude their deployments to Iraq this year -- thanks to the skill of their troops and the success of their missions," Bush said in a speech to the National Defense University.
The presence of other countries in Iraq, even if the troop contribution was modest, has long been used by the Bush administration as a way of deflecting criticism that its actions in Iraq were "unilateral." Now, Bush is portraying their departure as a sign of "return on success," his policy of bringing home troops as conditions improve in Iraq.
It's also a sign that the U.N. mandate permitting foreign troops to operate in Iraq expires at the end of the year. Any country that remains will have to negotiate a bilateral agreement with the Iraqi government, as the United States is now trying to do.
According to Bush, 41 countries -- and more than 140,000 foreign troops -- have participated in the Iraq conflict, but that number has been dwindling for some time. The Web site for Multi-National Force-Iraq says there are 21 countries still participating in the war effort in addition to the United States, including such contributors as Australia, Japan, Britain, Albania and Estonia.
A senior administration official, briefing reporters on background about Bush's speech, said the number of coalition members will shrink to a "handful" in the next few months. He declined to say which countries will remain, saying that decision should be up to the Iraqi government to announce. After the United States, which has 146,000 troops in Iraq now, the British have the largest remaining foreign presence, with about 4,000 troops, he said.
Australia has about 1,000 troops and Poland has 900 troops, but they will be drawing down, as Bush said. "We're going to reshape the coalition," said the senior administration official.
Staff writer Josh White contributed to this report.