Polish Troops to Leave Iraq by 2006

Poland (search) will withdraw its 1,700 soldiers from Iraq after their U.N. mandate expires at the end of this year, the defense minister said Tuesday, giving the first definitive timetable for ending a deployment that was very unpopular with Polish citizens.

Jerzy Szmajdzinski said it would take "a few weeks" for all the troops and equipment to return to Poland after the resolution for the multinational force in Iraq expires.

Polish officials previously indicated their forces would leave after the U.N. resolution expired, but Szmajdzinski's remarks were the first to narrow the window for the withdrawal to a January timeframe.

Poland is the fourth-largest contributor of troops to the U.S.-led coalition. The country commands a multinational force of about 4,700 troops in three provinces in central Iraq.

Szmajdzinski said his statement reflected the position of the Polish Cabinet and would need to be confirmed by President Aleksander Kwasniewski (search).

The next tour of duty, which begins in July and runs until the end of the year, would be smaller by a "few hundred troops," Szmajdzinski said, but he did not give the specific number.

Szmajdzinski said the decision to bring the troops home was based on an assessment of the security situation and on the financial burden on Poland's budget.

However, he added the mission could be extended if the Security Council voted a new mandate for next year or if the Iraqi government asked Poland to retain its troops there.

The current left-leaning government's popularity, burdened by a series of corruption scandals, has sunk to single digits in opinion polls ahead of parliamentary elections, which could be held as early as June.