Hungary premier wants to withdraw Iraq troops by April |

Hungary premier wants to withdraw Iraq troops by April

Associated Press

BUDAPEST, Hungary – Hungary’s government will ask lawmakers to keep its 300 troops in Iraq for an extra three months before pulling them out by March 31, the country’s new prime minister said Wednesday.

The decision to set a firm limit undercut President Bush’s effort to hold the multinational force together since Spain pulled out its 1,300 soldiers earlier this year. The interim Iraqi government asked Hungary a few weeks ago to keep its troops there for about another year.

Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany said he would ask parliament to extend the troops’ current mandate, which expires Dec. 31, until March 31. Hungary’s largest opposition party, which wants the soldiers home by year’s end, signaled it likely would block the move.

“We are obliged to stay there until the (Iraqi) elections. To stay longer is an impossibility,” Gyurcsany said.

Iraq’s elections are to be held by Jan. 31.

Hungary’s ambassador to the United States, Andras Simonyi, said the government’s decision to seek an extension until after the Iraqi elections was “serious and responsible.”

“It is important for Hungary to be present at this critical stage of Iraq’s democratization process,” he told The Associated Press.

Hungary has a transportation contingent of 300 troops stationed in Hillah, south of Baghdad. One Hungarian soldier has died in Iraq, killed when a roadside bomb exploded by the water-carrying convoy he was guarding.

Hungary, which joined the European Union in May, sent the troops as part of the U.S.-led coalition. But the government has been under mounting pressure from opposition parties who object to the deployment.

Recent polls showed that about 60 percent of Hungarians wanted the government to withdraw troops from Iraq immediately.

There were no immediate signs Wednesday that other coalition governments were considering pulling out their troops, although most – including Japan, Britain and Denmark – are facing domestic pressure to do so.

In a letter sent three weeks ago, Iraq thanked Hungary for its contributions so far.