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Poland to Play  Major Role in Iraq Peacekeeping Operations


Poland is preparing to play a big role in peacekeeping in Iraq, but is having trouble convincing other European countries to join in. Poland is seeking a U.N. mandate for an international stabilization force in Iraq as a way to convince Germany and other European nations to take part in peacekeeping.

Poland is one of Washington's strongest allies in Europe. It backed the U.S.-led war in Iraq and contributed at least 200 special forces troops to the effort to depose Saddam Hussein.

The United States has decided to reward Poland for its contribution by assigning it to take command of one of the four sectors it intends to establish in Iraq.

Poland wants to send up to 2,000 troops to its sector of Iraq, probably the north of the country. But it will need troops from other countries to complete the peacekeeping force.

Polish Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski suggested on a visit to Washington this week that Germany and Denmark contribute troops to the Polish-led contingent, saying they could draw on an army corps set up by the three nations that is now assigned to NATO and stationed in Poland.

But Germany, a staunch opponent of the war in Iraq, has rejected that idea. German officials, however, do not rule out the possibility that their soldiers could take part in peacekeeping in Iraq under a United Nations, or even a NATO, mandate.

So, Poland's foreign minister, Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, is now campaigning for U.N. authorization for the stabilization force, a move that could help Germany join.

"We believe that a U.N. mandate will be a very important element, not only of a legal character but also with very positive political consequences," he said. "We are among those European countries which believe that the United Nations should play an important role in Iraqi reconstruction."

Mr. Cimoszewicz says he expects the U.N. Security Council to take up a so-called omnibus resolution on the future of Iraq in the days ahead. The United States is seeking a resolution that covers all aspects of post-war Iraq, including an end to the U.N. trade sanctions imposed when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 as well as the stabilization force and reconstruction.

Poland, which is due to join the European Union a year from now, will need all its officials' negotiating skills to mend fences with Germany and France, another arch-opponent of the war, at a three-way summit meeting Friday in the Polish city of Wroclaw. Germany and France have criticized Poland's strong ties with Washington and its involvement in the Iraq war.

Despite Polish irritation at such criticism from Paris and Berlin, Foreign Minister Cimoszewicz says Germany, France and Russia, which also opposed the war, should play a role in rebuilding and administering Iraq.

"We all need to respect that France, Germany and Russia are major players on the international scene and they should be accepted, respected," he said. "Of course, that does not mean that we have to accept all elements of [their] policies and all of their decisions and behaviors."

The U.S. State Department said this week that it has not ruled out any participants in a stabilization force for Iraq despite disagreements with some European countries.