KIEV, Ukraine – The last Ukrainian and Bulgarian troops have left Iraq, and Poland plans deep cuts in its deployment next year, the countries said Tuesday, the latest of several U.S. allies to draw down force levels as public demand weighs on government leaders.
Poland's deputy defense minister said Tuesday that Poland would reduce troop levels in March, from nearly 1,500 to 900. The announcement came after Poland's government asked President Lech Kaczynski to keep Polish troops in Iraq for another year.
There was no immediate reaction from the president, but it was widely expected that he would approve the extension, reversing the previous government's decision to bring troops home within the next few weeks.
The deployment is unpopular, and 17 Polish soldiers have died in Iraq.
A column of eight armored personnel carriers and 44 soldiers had left the country and arrived in Kuwait, the statement said. Ukraine had kept 867 soldiers in Iraq after partial pullouts earlier this year. By Friday, all are due back in Ukraine, where the deployment has been unpopular.
"Not a single Ukrainian soldier remains on Iraqi soil," the ministry statement said, adding that some 50 Ukrainian military instructors will stay on to train Iraqi forces.
Ukraine opposed the invasion of Iraq but later contributed 1,650 troops to the U.S.-led coalition, becoming one of the largest non- NATO participants. Eighteen Ukrainian soldiers have been killed and another 32 wounded.
In Bulgaria, Defense Minister Veselin Bliznakov said Tuesday that his country had completed its own military pullout from Iraq.
"The last unit of 130 servicemen has been relocated at a safe place in Kuwait since last night," Bliznakov told reporters. He said the group was expected to return to Bulgaria by the weekend.
Bulgaria began withdrawing its troops from the city of Diwaniya shortly after Iraq's Dec. 15 parliamentary elections, transferring its military responsibilities to Iraqi forces.
Bliznakov has said that Bulgaria will "most likely" continue its military involvement in Iraq next year by contributing a 120-strong non-combat unit tasked with guarding the Ashraf refugee camp.
Poland has been a U.S. ally in Iraq, sending combat troops to the country and in September 2003 taking command of an international force that currently numbers some 3,000 troops, including the Poles.
However, some in Poland have complained that they have not seen sufficient rewards — for example, easier access to U.S. visas or more contracts for Polish companies in the rebuilding of Iraq.
In other developments, Spain's Socialist government, which vehemently opposes the war in Iraq and withdrew troops sent there by its predecessor, acknowledged that it had let a Spanish navy frigate join a U.S. battle group in the Persian Gulf. The Spanish Defense Ministry denied a newspaper report that the frigate Alvaro de Bazan participated in combat operations during its deployment.