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Coalition sending help, but not much

The paucity of peacekeepers means America won't be able to scale back its forces soon.

By Associated Press,
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 8, 2003

VIENNA - Bulgaria has 450 soldiers ready to go to Iraq. Azerbaijan is sending 150. Poland is considering up to 2,200, Italy as many as 3,000. But Denmark is good for only 380, Estonia just 55 - and Latvia a mere dozen.

America's coalition partners are preparing to deploy peacekeepers, but in numbers so small that the United States likely won't be able to hand off postwar duties to a large international force any time soon.

And on Wednesday, Germany rejected a Polish proposal to join with Denmark and use a joint three-nation corps for peacekeeping duty in Iraq. It didn't rule out sending troops under a U.N. or NATO umbrella.

Military experts say at least 40,000 troops will be needed to keep the peace.

"The force protection and troop requirements are pretty high," said Jonathan Stevenson, a defense specialist with the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. "The United States is going to find it difficult to make firm plans to get out in a big way."

Neither Britain, America's chief war partner with 40,000 military personnel still in the region, nor Australia, the No. 2 coalition backer with 2,000 combat forces, has decided how many will remain to stabilize Iraq.

The debate over deploying peacekeepers also is whipping up fresh antiwar sentiment in nations such as Hungary, where the government has proposed dispatching 300 troops for up to six months. Opposition lawmakers say any deployment should have a U.N., NATO or European Union mandate.

Poland's proposal foundered on similar objections. Its defense minister suggested in Washington this week that a Polish-led peacekeeping force in Iraq be built around the corps, set up after Poland joined NATO in 1999. Poland also pushed for U.N. authorization for the force - a move apparently designed to help Germany, a staunch opponent of the war, get aboard.

But the proposal angered the German government, which said it wasn't consulted.

"A participation of German soldiers is not being considered and it will not happen," said Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's spokesman, Bela Anda. "That is firm. . . . The criteria for such a task are not met."

In Copenhagen later Wednesday, German Defense Minister Peter Struck downplayed the differences after a previously planned meeting with the Polish minister, Jerzy Szmajdzinski, and their Danish counterpart Svend Aage Jensby.

The three ministers agreed that Poland can send officers from the corps to Iraq, but no Germans or Danes.

Like other countries, Poland worries about the cost.

Polish leaders say they can't afford the $90-million a year it would cost to maintain up to 2,200 peacekeepers in Iraq, and they're pressing for U.S. help.

The Philippines said this week it scaled down its humanitarian mission to Iraq from 500 personnel to 175 because of a cash crunch. It, too, hopes the Americans will underwrite the peacekeeping costs.

Other countries haven't flinched.

Italy is sticking to its commitment to send a 2,500- to 3,000-strong contingent to help restore order and provide humanitarian assistance. The forces are expected to deploy in June.

The largely Muslim republic of Azerbaijan on Wednesday approved the deployment of 150 peacekeepers for patrols, law enforcement and protection of religious and historical monuments.

As in the war itself, many coalition countries are making what Stevenson, the defense expert, called "purely decorative" offers. NATO could help, he said, if the alliance can overcome sharp divisions over the U.S.-led war and pull together to keep the peace.

"The place to start is in postconflict Iraq," he said.

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