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Poland to Keep Troops in Iraq

Poland's president on Thursday approved extending the country's military mission in Iraq for another year, the prime minister said.

"The issue is closed and taken care of," Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz told all-news station TVN24 during a skiing trip at the Polish mountain resort of Zakopane.

Marcinkiewicz's government requested Tuesday that President Lech Kaczynski, the commander in chief of Poland's armed forces, reverse plans by the previous government to bring home troops serving with the U.S.-led coalition in early 2006.

The president's office would not immediately confirm the news. But final approval from Kaczynski, who is close to Marcinkiewicz's government, was widely expected.

Poland's decision provides some relief to President Bush, who has seen the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq dwindle and faced withering criticism at home and abroad over his handling of the war.

On Tuesday, Ukraine and Bulgaria, which had troops serving in Iraq under Polish command, announced that they had completed the withdrawal of their forces from Iraq.

In requesting an extension, Marcinkiewicz called it "a very difficult decision" but a step meant to help maintain stability as Iraq progresses toward democracy.

Poland has been a staunch U.S. ally in Iraq. It sent combat troops to the country and in September 2003 took command of an international force that now numbers some 3,000 troops.

However, the deployment is unpopular, and 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. Seventeen Poland solders have died in Iraq.

The previous left-wing government had said it would bring the 1,500 Polish troops home at the start of 2006.

That government was replaced after parliamentary and presidential elections in September and October, which resulted in the conservative Law and Justice party of Marcinkiewicz and Kaczynski succeeding former communists in the top offices.

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