WARSAW, Poland – Poland (search) will keep troops in Iraq at least through the end of 2005, but firmly intends to reduce its presence at the start of next year, the nation's prime minister said Sunday.
Poland, which commands a 17-nation force in south-central Iraq (search), is required by a U.N. resolution to remain in Iraq until the end of 2005. But Polish leaders haven't determined what role their country will play after that, Prime Minister Marek Belka (search) said during a visit to Camp Babylon, the force's headquarters in Iraq.
"The next shift will be much smaller," Belka said in comments broadcast on Polish television. "We are counting on Iraqi security forces getting stronger and stronger and taking more of our duties from us."
He said Poland will start "thinking about changing the nature of our military presence" after 2005. "Maybe the international forces will be organized in a different way and maybe the international forces won't be needed anymore."
The Defense Ministry said last week that Poland would cut its troop levels from about 2,400 to between 1,000 and 1,500 next January.
Belka was at Camp Babylon to mark a change of command of the multinational force as part of a scheduled troop rotation. Polish Gen. Andrzej Ekiert, a 57-year-old with peacekeeping experience in Kosovo and South Korea, took over from Gen. Mieczyslaw Bieniek.
Belka said that it would be up to the Iraqi leadership to determine how long Poland will remain and what role it will play.