With more than 15 000 troops in 10 tours of duty so far Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) remains the largest military effort undertaken by the armed forces of the independent polish state. This effort terminates later this year, as the PM Donald Tusk promised withdrawal of the contingent and president Lech Kaczynski signed orders which allow for use of the polish forces in Iraq until October the 31st 2008.
Little time is spent today on debating Iraq. The issue fell victim to more „exciting" questions, like the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty and notably Afghanistan, which was in deep shadow of Iraq. Observers have to rely on media reports, think-tank debates and public opinion polls. The outcome is gloom.
Wrong war. Poland's engagement in Iraq was based on the strategic bilateral alliance with the US and a sense of duty to the international community.Poland's leaders quoted intelligence sources and the allies' reasurements of Iraq's wrongdoing and lethal danger as grounds for going to war. It took them more than 3 years to admit they were misled and deceived. Interpretation of what is national interest evolved and only recently inclined to the general anti-war mood.
Little gains. The aim of strenghtening the bilateral strategic relation with the US has failed. The graphic proof for that is the planned missile defence deployment, where Poland is desperately trying to secure some hardware for its defence capabilities with little positive response so far.
Military experience. The iraqi mission was a major testground for both line units, supplies, logistics and command structures. Reality has been quite far away from what the operation was planned for. Goals of the mission have evolved from peace-enforcement and stabilization to training and again to peace-enforcement. As Afghanistan became number one task for NATO, Poland realised it can not lead two such operations at a time. Hence the choice has been made to focus on Afghanistan.
Public distrust. The pro-war lobby which led Poland to Iraq is suffering political defeat. The post-communist party, responsible for sending troops to Iraq is merely marginalised. The right-wing conservatives who supported keeping the mission lost the last general election to a moderate center-right, whose leaders maintain that Poland fulfilled its mission and has well deserved the right to leave.
Making foes. Keeping on the American side complicated Poland's position within the EU in the early stage of its membership and made it more difficult for diplomacy to negotiate important EU matters.
Balance sheet. It is justified to conclude that Poland did not gain much on OIF. Whether it did loose, that remains to be analysed in detail. As it seems however, the current asessment of OIF makes further such decissions more difficult, if not impossible.
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