The government planned to pull troops out in early 2006 after gradually reducing its forces in the course of this year.

 

Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, Poland's prime minister on Tuesday told a news conference: "The government decided to ask the president to extend the deployment of Polish military forces as part of the international forces in Iraq from 1 January, 2006 until 31 December, 2006.

 

"This is a very difficult decision, but we take into consideration the fact that the mandate of UN stabilisation forces has been extended to the whole of 2006 and, secondly, strong requests of Iraqi authorities that we stay there."

 

Stanislaw Koziej, the deputy defence minister, told the news conference Poland's military force in Iraq would be reduced to 900 in March 2006. He said the focus of Poland's presence would also shift towards the training of Iraqi forces.

 

Ukrainian troops

 

Ukraine's defence ministry announced on Tuesday that the last Ukrainian troops serving in Iraq have left the country, fulfilling a long-planned withdrawal pledged by Viktor Yushchenko, the country's president.

 

Yushchenko (C) promised to pull
out of Iraq when elected

A column of eight armoured personnel carriers and 44 soldiers left the country and arrived in Kuwait.

 

The ministry said in a statement: "Not a single Ukrainian soldier remains on Iraqi soil", but added that some 50 Ukrainian military instructors tasked with training Iraqi forces will stay on.

 

Ukraine initially opposed the invasion of Iraq but later contributed 1650 troops to the US-led coalition, becoming one of the largest non-Nato participants.

 

Yushchenko, who was elected in December 2004, made pulling out from Iraq one of his campaign promises and pledged that all of them would be home by the end of 2005.