As bloodshed takes toll on U.S.-led coalition, Iraq asks Muslim nations to help
Associated Press Writer
VIENNA, Austria (AP) – A bloody spate of suicide bombings, hostage-takings and beheadings in Iraq has rocked the U.S.-led coalition, prompting the Philippines to pull out its tiny contingent and anxious people elsewhere to demand their troops come home.
The violence – and the growing hesitation of many countries to send soldiers – led Iraq’s new premier to issue a plea for help Thursday from nations with large Muslim populations including India, Pakistan and Egypt.
Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said he also was looking for soldiers from Bangladesh and Morocco, apparently hoping the Islamic insurgents targeting Western forces and civilians would be less likely to attack Muslim troops.
Allawi said in an interview with Associated Press Television News in Baghdad that he was turning to “our neighbors and brothers in the Islamic world to close ranks to fight terrorism.”
But there were no immediate takers, and at least one polite rebuff from mostly Muslim Malaysia, which said it probably won’t dispatch troops to Iraq.
Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who heads the world’s largest Islamic political organization, said his country likely would send only a medical team – and not even that until “the situation is a little more stable.” He did say he would urge other Muslim nations to deploy troops.
Despite the ferocity and number of attacks in recent days, most coalition countries said Thursday they’re standing firm.
Italy, whose contingent of 3,000 troops is the third-largest in Iraq, has no plans to pull out. Neither does Poland, with 2,500 soldiers; Romania, with 730 infantry and military police; Denmark, with 500 troops; Hungary, with 300; nor the Czech Republic and Slovakia, with about 100 each.
“An honorable country stays true to its undertakings,” said Portugal’s incoming foreign minister, Antonio Monteiro, summing up the stoicism of many member nations. Portugal has 120 police officers in Iraq.
Still, the Philippines’ decision this week to withdraw its 51 peacekeepers in an effort to save the life of a kidnapped truck driver dealt a dramatic, if mostly symbolic, blow to the coalition. The international contingent already was weakened by Spain’s pullout after deadly terrorist train bombings in Madrid.
The Bush administration, which has struggled to get more countries to help secure Iraq, criticized the Filipino government and warned it might pay a price for caving in.
“I think that it’s disappointing to see a decision that sends the wrong signal to terrorists,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. “You cannot negotiate with terrorists or make a separate peace with terrorists.”
Bulgaria’s government, despite working desperately to win the freedom of a captive Bulgarian truck driver after another driver reportedly was killed this week, rebuffed calls at home to pull out its 480 troops.
Its stance angered lawmakers and citizens who have been clamoring for a quick withdrawal so more Bulgarians aren’t targeted.
“To avoid future situations in which Bulgarians are being kidnapped in Iraq, we have to pull out our troops,” said lawmaker Andrei Pantev.
In Poland, the government says it is committed to remaining in Iraq until the situation stabilizes, but leaders also say they favor a gradual reduction of involvement. The Defense Ministry this week announced plans to cut troop levels from about 2,500 to between 1,000 and 1,500 in early 2005.
Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski scorned the Philippines’ decision to pull out, telling the Fakt newspaper it was “a result of the blackmail of terrorists.”
“It’s a mistake. There are tens of examples not just from Iraq but from the history of the 1960s and ’70s that giving in to terrorists’ demands does not solve problems,” he said. “To the contrary, they start feeling sure of themselves, impudent and believe they will go unpunished. This is a road which leads nowhere.”
The Netherlands last month extended the stay of its 1,400 forces until next spring. But Dutch officials have ruled out another extension and say the troops might even be withdrawn early if the security risk becomes too great.
Thailand’s prime minister said recently that his country’s 443 troops – who perform strictly non-combat humanitarian duties – could come home before September, their scheduled pullout date, if the security situation worsens.