New York Times
November 4, 2004
BERLIN, Nov. 3 - Hungary announced Wednesday that it would withdraw its 300 troops from Iraq, becoming the latest country in United States-led coalition to bow to public pressure and prepare to bring its soldiers home.
Speaking at a ceremony for the end of military conscription, the newly appointed prime minister, Ferenc Gyurcsany, said Hungary was obliged to stay until the Iraqi elections scheduled for January, but would withdraw the troops by March.
"To stay longer is an impossibility," said Mr. Gyurcsany (pronounced JOR-chahn-ee).
The United States had persuaded 32 countries to provide 22,000 soldiers as part of the multinational force established to stabilize postwar Iraq. But over the last few months, a number of countries have withdrawn, some citing the cost but others concerned about security, and many governments face increasing public opposition to the war.
Spain's Socialist government withdrew its 1,300 troops after it swept into power last March, reversing the commitment of the prior center-right government of Prime Minister José María Aznar. The Dominican Republic withdrew 302 soldiers, Nicaragua 115 and Honduras 370. The Philippines withdrew its 51 in July, a month early, after insurgents took hostage a Filipino truck driver working for a Saudi company. Norway withdrew 155 military engineers, keeping only 15 staff members to help NATO train and equip the Iraqi security forces.
Two large contributors to the international force - Britain, with 12,000 troops, and Italy, with more than 3,100 - have insisted they will not withdraw. But Poland, the fourth-largest contributor, with 2,400 troops, says it intends to withdraw by the end of next year, and the Netherlands, with 1,400 troops, said this week that the latest rotation of troops would be its last contribution to Iraq.
New Zealand is withdrawing its 60 engineers and Thailand said it wanted to bring home its 450 troops. Singapore has reduced its contingent to 33, from 191; Moldova has trimmed its force to 12, from 42. On Wednesday Bulgaria's Defense Ministry said it would reduce its 483 troops to 430 next month, Reuters reported.
Iraq's interim government had asked Hungary to keep its troops in the country for another year. But Peter Matyuc, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry, said in a statement that the government would ask Parliament on Monday to extend the troops' mandate by only three months.
"By March 31, 2005, we will bring our troops back from Iraq," Mr. Gyurcsany said. "From then on, the existence of a stable democratic and safe Iraq has to be created by different means, above all political means.''
In a letter signed in January 2003, Hungary joined ranks with Poland, the Czech Republic, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Denmark and Britain in endorsing the Bush administration's willingness to use force to disarm Iraq, a move that deepened Europe's divisions over Iraq. A ninth country, Slovakia, signed the letter later. That first letter was followed by another signed by 10 more countries.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld added to the divisions by describing those governments that opposed military intervention - notably France and Germany - as Old Europe and those who supported Washington as New Europe.