Dutch troops in Iraq to stay until 2005

The Dutch government says it plans to keep around 1300 troops in Iraq until March 2005 as part of a multinational force in a boost to the US-led coalition overseeing a transfer of power to Iraqis.

    Dutch troops have been based in the southern city of Samawa

    The decision by Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende's

    centre-right government to renew the mandate for its troops to

    stay in Iraq is expected to be put to the lower house of

    parliament within two weeks. It is expected to gain approval. 

     

    "The mission is not open ended. The eight-month period is

    related to the organisation of elections and points in the UN

    resolution," Balkenende told a news conference on Friday.

     

    The United States has asked other nations to keep their t

    roops in Iraq after the US-led coalition hands over power to

    an interim Iraqi government on June 30 amid continued violence.

     

    A US-led occupation force has around 160,000 troops in Iraq.

     

    The move to keep Dutch troops in Iraq follows a decision by

    fellow EU member state Spain to withdraw its troops, sealing its

    conversion from a pillar of the US-led coalition into one of

    Washington's harshest Western critics over Iraq. 

     

    "The government has decided today to extend the Dutch

    military contribution to the multinational forces in Iraq for a

    period of eight months (from mid-July 2004 until mid-March

    2005)," the Foreign Ministry said.

     

    UN approval

     

    The Dutch government's decision comes a matter of days after

    the UN gave resounding approval to a resolution on the future

    of Iraq. The United States and Britain ousted Iraqi leader

    Saddam Hussein 14 months ago after invading Iraq.

     

    The UN Security Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to

    adopt a US-British resolution that formally ends the o

    ccupation of Iraq on 30 June, endorsed a "sovereign interim

    government" in Iraq and authorised a US-led multinational

    force to keep the peace.

     

    The decision by the Dutch coalition could prove

    controversial. A recent opinion poll showed that the Dutch

    public is divided over keeping its forces in Iraq.

     

    A recent opinion poll showed that the Dutch public is divided over keeping its forces in Iraq


    "It's an important decision and I hope that it will benefit

    from the support of parliament and Dutch society," Balkenende

    said at a news conference.

     

    Dutch troops have been based at Samawa in southern Iraq

    since July 2003 with a mandate to help with reconstruction and

    to provide security and stability in a region where Japan has

    sent 550 non-combat troops to help rebuild the country.

       

    Risky operation

     

    The death of the first Dutch soldier in a grenade attack in

    Iraq in May provoked shock in the Netherlands. He was the first

    Dutch soldier to be killed in conflict since 1995 when a

    peacekeeper died in the Srebrenica enclave in the Bosnian war.

       

    "The government is fully aware of the risks this operation

    poses for Dutch soldiers. Nevertheless, the government considers

    them to be justified in view of the importance of the

    operation," the government said after its weekly Cabinet meeting

    in The Hague. 

    The Japanese contingent was
    accommodated in the Dutch base

     

    This week's UN resolution paves the way for elections by

    giving a timetable of no later than January 2005 for a poll on a

    transitional government.

     

    After a constitution is written, a

    permanent government is to take office by 31 January 2006.

     

    The Dutch government said it would stay to ensure a smooth

    transition of sovereignty and later elections to establish a s

    afe, stable and democratic Iraq.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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