Two U.S. Allies Pulling Out of Iraq

VIENNA, Austria -- Two of America's allies in Iraq are withdrawing forces this month and a half-dozen others are debating possible pullouts or reductions, increasing pressure on Washington as calls mount to bring home U.S. troops.

Ukrainian soldiers in Iraq

Bulgaria and Ukraine will begin withdrawing their combined 1,250 troops by mid-December. If Australia, Britain, Italy, Japan, Poland and South Korea reduce or recall their personnel, more than half of the non-American forces in Iraq could be gone by next summer.

Japan and South Korea help with reconstruction, but Britain and Australia provide substantial support forces and Italy and Poland train Iraqi troops and police. Their exodus would deal a blow to American efforts to prepare Iraqis to take over the most dangerous peacekeeping tasks and craft an eventual U.S. exit strategy.

"The vibrations of unease from within the United States clearly have an impact on public opinion elsewhere," said Terence Taylor of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Washington. "Public opinion in many of these countries is heavily divided."

In the months after the March 2003 invasion, the multinational force numbered about 300,000 soldiers from 38 countries 250,000 from the U.S. and 50,000 from other countries. The coalition has steadily unraveled as the death toll rises and angry publics clamor for troops to leave.

Now the nearly 160,000-member U.S. force in Iraq is supported by just under 24,000 mostly non-combat personnel from 27 countries. Britain has the second-largest contingent with 8,000 in Iraq and 2,000 elsewhere in the Gulf region.

In the spring, the Netherlands had 1,400 troops in Iraq. Today, there are 19, including a lone Dutch soldier in Baghdad.

Ukraine's remaining 876 troops in Iraq are due home by Dec. 31, fulfilling a campaign pledge by President Viktor Yushchenko. Bulgaria is pulling out its 380 troops after Dec. 15 parliamentary elections, Defense Minister Veselin Bliznakov said.

In his strategy for Iraq, announced Wednesday, President Bush said expanding international support was one of his goals. He also seemed to address the issue of more allies withdrawing.

Source: AP

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