Romania edges towards the door

Romania’s PM Tariceanu announced yesterday that he wants to withdraw Romania’s troops from Iraq.

Right now here are about 900 Romanian soldiers there — one full battalion, with the catchy name of “The Red Scorpions”. They’re deployed in the Al-Nasyria area. They don’t do combat operations. There’s an intelligence team and some de-miners. 900 non-combat soldiers may not sound like a lot, but they made Romania the fifth largest member of the coalition (after the US, Britain, South Korea and Italy).

Why were they there? Well, Romania places a high value on the security relationship with the US. (A cynic might suggest that they’re keeping up the payments on their national security insurance policy.) The numbers involved are not large, Romanian casualties have been very light (one death in three years, to a roadside bomb), so up until now it hasn’t seemed like a very expensive investment on Romania’s part.

The withdrawal isn’t a done deal, BTW. PM Tariceanu must ask the Defense Council for permission; unlike a US President, he isn’t Commander in Chief of the armed forces. And President Basescu (who until recently was saying that the troops should stay “until democracy is established”) may yet weigh in.

From a little distance, I have the impression of a government edging cautiously towards the door, floating a trial balloon and waiting to see how everyone else reacts.

Note that the new government of Italy is sharply cutting Italy’s military commitment to Iraq; the troop count there has dropped from 2,700 to 1,600, and Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema says all troops will be out by early 2007. That would leave the Poles (900 troops) and the Danes (550) as the only European countries other than Britain with significant numbers of troops in Iraq. (Hereby somewhat arbitrarily defined as more than 200 men. There are a dozen or so countries with 20 or 50 or 100 there.)

European countries that had significant troop levels in Iraq, but then left:

Spain — 1,300, left April 2004 (Zapatero government)
Hungary — 300, December 2004
Netherlands — 1,300, left March 2005
Ukraine — 1,600, left December 2005 (Yushchenko government)
Bulgaria — 460, left May 2006

So, there were nine (counting Britain); five have left, one looks getting ready to go, that would leave three.

No further comment, just taking note.

The Dutch are going to Afghanistan

Most of you will have read the news by now, but I need to mention this to complete my earlier post The battle of Wobbly Knee: Dutch troops in Afghanistan. Dutch Parliament voted yesterday, with a substantial majority, to send some 1,200 more troops to Afghanistan. More precisely to the dangerous province of Uruzgan. Only D66, the SP (Socialist Party) and GroenLinks (Green leftist party) voted against, but D66 has already declared it will back the troops regardless. Good on them.

Some 7,500 soldiers will be prepared for reconstruction and stabilisation activities under the umbrella of ISAF (International Security Assistance Force). The first extra troops will be sent in August and the whole operation is slated to be in effect for two years. In the foreign press, on the BBC News site for instance, the extra number of Dutch soldiers to be stationed in Afghanistan is often estimated at 1,400 troops. So far the Dutch press have only mentioned 1,200. To recapitulate: the Dutch ISAF contingent in Afghanistan will be enlarged by 1,200 soldiers coming from a rotating pool of 7,500 (source: the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf). To be continued, for sure.

UPDATE: Salient detail: fraction leader for Democrats 66, Boris Dittrich, just resigned over the Afghanistan debate. Lousewies van der Laan will replace him. Dittrich took responsibility for, and I quote, “political-tactical mistakes”. One of those mistakes was a, later recanted, threat by D66 to let the Dutch Cabinet “fall” if troops were sent to Afghanistan. The reason behind all this manoeuvring? To persuade coalition partner PvdA (Dutch labour party) to vote against. As we know now, that tactic did not work.

The battle of Wobbly Knee: Dutch troops in Afghanistan

The Netherlands is talking about sending an additional 1,200 troops to Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province. The Dutch already have 540 people working in Afghanistan under the umbrella of the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) peace mission and another 674 under the umbrella of Operation Enduring Freedom. For other Dutch international deployments look here.

Why is it hard for the Dutch to finally make good on a promise their government made back on December 22nd 2005?
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Uzbekistan and the World

Ok, I’m feeling guilty. Back in November, when the ‘orange revolution’ was thriving in Ukraine, we were all over it here at Afoe. Now, with an estimated several hundred dead in Andizhan, Uzbekistan we’re strangely silent. Why, because it isn’t Europe? Well, we are a Europe centred blog, but I hope that doesn’t mean we are Eurocentric. In any event we are involved, one way or another: as Jack Straws comments, or lack of them, make only too plain. So I’m going to try and follow what is happening in Uzbekistan.

But there is another reason for my deciding to do something about the situation, and it came to me after reading a post by John Quiggin on Crooked Timber.
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The Giuliana Sgrena Story

I have to confess that I’m utterly mystified by this story.

Short recap for those who haven’t followed the events. Giuliana Sgrena, an Italian journalist for Il Manifesto and contributor to the German Zeit, was abducted outside of Baghdad on February 4. The outrage was great – Italians went on the streets to protest and demand her release, the Zeit magazine dedicated an entire section with articles, pleas and reports to Ms. Sgrena.

13 days into her abduction, a video surfaced in which a haggard, terrified, tear-choking Sgrena pleas for an end of the Italian engagement in Iraq. It was a chilling document and no one who saw it was left untouched.

The Italian government promised to do everything to secure her release — short of calling its troops home.
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Ukraine, developing…

Update: (Nick – 1730CET) The official announcement has been made, declaring Yanukovich the victor. More ASAP when I’ve rounded up the reactions.

Maidan are reporting preparations for a state of emergency are being made at Yanukovich headquarters. Victor reports official results are 49.5% to Yanukovich, 45.5% to Yeschenko, though he already has reports of fraud. At the moment, I’m crossing fingers and everything else and hoping. Kwasniewkski and a Dutch representative (I don’t know who) are still reported to be on their way to Kiev.

The IHT reports the Ukrainian defence minister telling the Army to ‘remain calm’. Two members of the Election Commission refused to endorse the result. The Periscope’s latest update includes details of actions being considered by the European Commission and Parliament and Schroeder has talked with Putin urging that the situation be resolved lawfully (translated out of diplomatese, that would seem to mean ‘don’t do anything with your troops, Vladimir’)

Neeka has a new post on the Elections Commission meeting.

Update: (David.)

Hopeful news (for real)

NYT reports:

Shortly after his rival’s offer, Yanukovich also hinted at compromise by saying that he was not interested in a “fictitious” victory and that “no position of authority, no matter how important, is worth a single human life.”

Yushchenko’s comments provided outgoing President Leonid Kuchma with a way to defuse a crisis that has convulsed the ex-Soviet state of 47 million after it became obvious early on Monday that Yanukovich would be declared the winner.

Update: (David.) I just made a highly embarrasing goof. I thought a ten days old report was new. Ignore my last (deleted) post.

Update: (Nick) I don’t want to draw too many conclusions, as I’ve not quite sure the evidence supports them, but the Kyiv Post reports that Yuschenko has called on soldiers and police to defy orders to take action against the people and Maidan – who earlier reported that Ukrainian special forces were willing to intervene on the side of the protestors – are reporting that the Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Marine Forces has acknowledged Yuschenko as President. Pure conjecture here, but I have a feeling that the reports of Russian troops being deployed within Ukraine has backfired and driven the armed forces into the opposition camp, as they don’t want to end up in a position where they’re firing on their own people.

5 pm CET:

Maidan claims that Today the President of Poland Kwasnewski arrives as representative of EU to Ukraine. and that Maidan receives more and more confirmation about presence of Russian troops in Ukraine.

Russia refuses to confirm or deny its troops’ presence.

Europe stepped up pressure on Ukraine officials Wednesday to review the results of the disputed presidential poll, following a similar statement of support from the White House. Meanwhile, Russian authorities continued to support Ukraine officials.

Still nothing from the electoral commisssion, which was supposed to announce the final results two hours ago.

Update:

Nov. 24 (Bloomberg) — Ukraine’s Viktor Yushchenko, who accuses the government of rigging the Nov. 21 presidential elections, said he would agree to holding another second-round vote if the government is willing.

(Original post starts here)

There have been reports (Maidan, Scott Clark, Periscope commenters) that Russian Spetnaz are in Ukraine. Now, via Nosemonkey Maidan says: Ukranian special police will defend the people if Russian troops attack

Worst case scenario is dire indeed.

Prelude to crackdown? Postmodernclog.com wrrote two hour ago:

Authorities have begun violent action against peaceful protesters near the Presidential Admin building. 2 buses of special ops police units drove up and have moved on the demonstrators.

The periscope commenters reports

According to Korrespondent.net, Lviv Regional Council dismissed its Head and elected an Executive Committee, headed by the opposition MP Petro Oliynyk. Oliynyk sworn the oath to the People’s President Yuschenko.
This has been the third Oblast Council to acknowledge Yuchenko’s victory, along with Volyn and Ivano-Frankivsk oblasts.
A number of city councils also either expressed support for Yuschenko or claimed the results of the second round of elections invalid, among them Kyiv, Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Vinnytsya, Ternopil, Stryi, Sambor, Khmelnytsk, Lutsk, Chernivtsi, Zhytomyr.
Some of the Eastern oblasts, on the other hand, issued statements claiming Yanukovich the elected President: Kharkiv (despite numerous pro-Yuschenko demonstrations), Odessa and Donetsk.

They also have a transcript of Yushchenko’s speech in Independence Square.

Blogs reporting from the ground: Scott Clark, Neeka, Victor Katolyk (in comments), Postmodern Clog.

Other blogs covering Ukraine: Europhobia, Voldmyr Campaign, Tulip Girl

Ukrainian news sites: Brama, Maidan, the Pora campaign..

Now That’s More Like It

Germany is reconsidering the deployment of troops in Iraq, should conditions ‘change’. According to the FT, Peter Struck, the German defence minister, departing from previous declared government policy stated in an interview that while ?At present I rule out the deployment of German troops in Iraq. In general, however, there is no one who can predict developments in Iraq in such a way that he could make a such a binding statement [about the future].”

The FT also informs us that Struck welcomed Kerry?s proposal that he would convene an international conference on Iraq including countries that opposed the war if he were to win next month’s election. Now I have already suggested that I think EU leaders would be ill advised to get involved in the US presidential elections (not least because I think any such intervention might well boomerang). I see no harm whatever, however, in indicating that national policies would change under changing circumstances.

No continent is an island, and the EU cannot afford to sit back and watch a disintegration of Iraq. It may seem a long way off, but it could rapidly come to feel like it was a lot nearer.

Perhaps the most significant comments came from an unnamed ‘official’

A senior official said: ?When the situation in Iraq changes, when elections have been held, or there are other developments, then we will make decisions on this basis.? If a democratically-elected Iraqi government were to ask the UN for support, the international community, including Germany, must be in a position to respond, the official added.

Full Disclosure: I am British, I now think the invasion was a mistake, but I think Britain has an absolute obligation to maintain the troop presence. I also think that the debate about who was right and who was wrong is better left for history, since, in the light of what has subsequently happened we now have more pressing concerns. I personally welcome the Kerry proposal, and would also welcome increasing UN and other international involvement. We cannot afford to let this one go wrong.

Addendum: Spain is also reconsidering. Jos? Bono – Spain’s Defence Minister -issued a statement to that effect last week, and then a lightening retraction in the wake of the ensuing controversy. This sort of thing is not unusual in Spain. My reading is that Spanish troops would once more be there, under the right circumstances.

Poland to withdraw from Iraq

AP is running a report that Poland’s president, Aleksander Kwasniewski, will withdraw Polish troops from Iraq.

President Aleksander Kwasniewski, a key Washington ally, said Thursday he may withdraw troops early from Iraq and that Poland was “misled” about the threat of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.

His remarks to a small group of European reporters were his first hint of criticism about war in Iraq, where Poland currently has 2,400 troops and with the United States and Britain commands one of three sectors of the U.S.-led occupation.

“Naturally, one may protest the reasons for the war action in Iraq. I personally think that today, Iraq without Saddam Hussein is a truly better Iraq than with Saddam Hussein,” Kwasniewski told the European reporters.

“But naturally I also feel uncomfortable due to the fact that we were misled with the information on weapons of mass destruction,” he said, according to a transcript released by the presidential press office.

Earlier in the day, Kwasniewski said Poland may start withdrawing its troops from Iraq early next year, months earlier than the previously stated date of mid-2005. He cited progress toward stabilizing Iraq.

That’s two allies in two weeks for George W. Bush – and in the run-up to the election too. So much for support from “New Europe.” Spain and Poland are the only non-Anglo nations sending any meaningful number of actual troops.
 

Spanish Troops With A UN/NATO Mandate?

I haven’t much to say about this that I haven’t already said, but the idea of Spain forming part of a NATO contingent which is under a UN mandate would seem to me to represent real progress.

“Yes there is some doubt about the Spanish contingent but otherwise the Iraq force is there,” said one. “It will just be a question of changing their badges and flags to ‘NATO’.”
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Six Moroccans Identified in Madrid Bombing

Well, little by little the details are getting clearer. According to the Spanish daily El Pais the police now know the identity of six Moroccans who are thought to have participated in Thursday’s bombing.

According to the newspaper one of those responsible is Jamal Zougan from Tangiers who has been identified from photographs by two passengers from one of the bombed trains. These passengers have also identified two more people who accompanied Zougan that day. These latter two are thought by police to have been combatants in Chechenia and Bosnia. Zougan also shared a flat at one time with Abdelaziz Benyaich who is under preventive detention in Spain for his presumed association with the bombing of a Spanish cultural centre in Casablanca last year.

Oh, what a tangled web they weave!
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