The Poles have traditionally for years aligned themselves with the US, possibly as an understandable reaction against the longtime Russian oppression.
Although a free country by name, Poland, for fifty years after the end of the Second World War, has merely been a satellite state of the dictatorial USSR. No wonder that Poles, given an opportunity, were happy to show their solidarity with the other, benevolent superpower. After all, Poland, having a strategic position in the middle of Europe, needs powerful allies, and the US is in this respect the number one in the world. As the saying goes, the winner is always right, and thus, the Poles followed the US into its Iraqi adventure with eyes open and without much hesitation, publicly joining Mr. Bush's war on terrorism.
What exactly the Poles expected in return is a good question. Although, one can argue, the Poles joined forces with the US for a noble reason, they were hoping for a reward. Alas, the economical outcome of the war adventure turned out not to be very profitable, if at all.
Like many other countries that went into Iraq with the US, those Poles who were expecting huge and profitable business contracts were sorely disappointed. It was the US companies that were blessed with lucrative assignments, and besides, since the insurgency is still very much alive and kicking, much of the planned economic development of the country has been put on the backburner.
The US went into Iraq for many more or less obvious reasons. In a way, it was a logical continuation of the first war with Iraq, won but never finished. Why would the Poles get involved is a more intriguing and never clearly answered question. Solidarity with the superpower, possible contracts, and political favors are just a few possible motives.
The war in Iraq is still raging. In fact, now, quite a while after the victory, the number of casualties is much higher than during the war itself. It seems that winning against Saddam was an easy part, restoring law and order in the country is a different matter. The insurgents do not fight fair, the human bombs, the car bombs, and the shootings in the back never cease. There is no glory in the patrolling the deserted streets of the distant Iraqi cities, only inherent danger.
As the Polish Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkowski stated the Poles will be staying until the end of 2006, although only as advisors and instructors to the Iraqi forces. Only 900 soldiers will stay, compared to 1400 at present. The bill that the Polish government will pick up is a respectable 131,5 mln zl;, which the government argues is cheap, since the Americans pay the most of the costs and the actual expense is no more than what keeping the forces in Poland would cost.
A new Polish contingent will arrive already in June. According to the Prime Minister, both the Iraqi and the Americans are eager the Poles to remain in Iraq. The US wants to show that the invasion of Iraq is an international effort. Thus, it is vital that also other countries are involved. The Polish government has been putting off making the decision about the continued effort ah, the intricacies of politics - as it seems, in order to get the most benefits from both the Iraqi and the Americans. The Poles, just like many others, hopefully not in vain, also are counting on future cooperation with Iraqis regarding oil.
By now the Polish forces have been in Iraq for two and a half years, and the facet stands at 27 killed soldiers. But, as the government states, there was no casualties in the last year, since the Americans have take over the deadly areas - which is undoubtedly better for the Poles, but what about the Americans?
The mission is controversial between the Poles and there is a broad political opposition against continued involvement. The ruling PIS (Law and Justice) is the only party that wants the mission to continue. "We succumb to easily to our allies' pressures," critically states the former chief of defense Bronislaw Komorowski.
It's important not to forget the dire conditions in Iraq - as a returning soldier stated, "I have been to Hell and back." No wonder Poles at home have eclectic views on the subject - after all, they do not have to go out and fight. There are those that want the Polish participation to go on, be it because they feel it is our duty to fight terrorism, or as Piotrek points out, because the US "is our only defense against Russia." Another critical vote states that "PIS are American's servants," and that is why the Poles have to stay. Krzysztof is pessimistic, though, about the rewards, possibly because "the Polish mongrels will be thrown a bone by Mr. Bush. But what he cares about is Israel or nothing at all, not us" and Joanna says ironically, "It is a courageous decision by our authorities, but they do not need to ride metro, as the rest of us." Maria asks a pregnant question like many others in the non participating countries: "Why do we need to take part in occupation of a foreign country that never threatened us, but with whom we had good commercial contacts?"
Some Poles believe that the image of Poland has improved thanks to its involvement in Iraq. Piotrek thinks that "Poland counts now as a real partner. We sell products to iraq for millions now and will continue to do so."
Who is right or wrong remains to be seen. Right now and, as always, only one thing unites the Poles - they agree to disagree. Whether the mission to Iraq a success or whether Iraq will turn out to be yet another Vietnam, only time will tell. One thing is certain, it will more than a Polish contingent to Iraq and 27 casualties to make Poland a worthy partner for the US. And Iraq is very far from home, indeed.