Latest barrage of attacks testing resolve of America's allies

Wednesday, December 3, 2003

VIENNA, Austria -- America's allies in Iraq, suddenly besieged by guerrilla attacks that until now targeted mostly U.S. forces, are also under fire at home from a public shaken by the mounting dangers.

Although many coalition countries had braced for the inevitability of casualties -- and have responded by reaffirming their intentions to stay put -- their resolve is being tested like never before.

The mood was summed up Tuesday by opposition lawmakers in Hungary, who have taken the government to task for declaring it will keep its 300-strong force in Iraq through the end of next year.

"The situation is starting to resemble Vietnam," said Karoly Herenyi, parliamentary leader of the Hungarian Democratic Forum.

The party supported the troops' deployment last summer but wants the soldiers home now that "conditions of war have developed," he said. Eight in 10 Hungarians oppose the country's presence in Iraq, polls show, even though there has been just one Hungarian death -- a civilian killed last month under unclear circumstances.

U.S. troops have suffered the most deaths -- 440 casualties since the beginning of military operations in Iraq.

At a NATO meeting in Brussels, Belgium, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday that nearly all NATO countries with troops in Iraq have vowed to remain there in 2004.

He said 18 of 26 alliance members -- including seven that formally join NATO next spring -- have troops with the U.S.-led coalition. They number about 24,000, compared with the 130,000 American troops in Iraq.

"Most if not all have pledged to stay on," Rumsfeld said, "to not be dissuaded by the fact that there have been some high-profile casualties that have been taken by some of the coalition countries."

Back home, however, support has eroded dramatically in countries such as Spain, a key U.S. ally which lost seven intelligence agents last weekend in the deadliest attack yet on its forces in Iraq. Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar has said Spain will keep its 1,300 troops on the ground.

"We believe the Spanish presence in Iraq in its current form -- with troops more focused on self-defense than on any other task -- makes increasingly little sense," the daily El Mundo said in a front-page editorial.

Japanese media reported Tuesday that the country -- alarmed by the ambush slayings of two of its diplomats in Iraq last weekend -- will postpone sending a team of engineers and doctors to help with the country's reconstruction.

Japan has promised to send noncombat troops to help with Iraq's reconstruction, but Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's ratings have plunged and the government has not set a deployment date. The country's largest opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan, has denounced the planned troop dispatch as foolhardy, saying all of Iraq is a combat zone.

More than 80 percent of Japanese have reservations about sending troops to Iraq, and many feel it could lead to terrorist reprisal attacks, according to a poll published this week by the Mainichi newspaper.

"What we had feared has, sadly, happened," Japan's largest daily, Yomiuri, said of Saturday's attacks. "This is a painful sacrifice."

Lawmakers in South Korea on Tuesday recommended sending both combat and noncombat troops to Iraq, despite a weekend attack that killed two South Korean workers there. The government has pledged to deploy up to 3,000 troops.

El Salvador's main leftist opposition party, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, has criticized the use of 360 Salvadoran troops in Iraq. The government will not pull them out, Vice President Carlos Quintanilla said Monday.

Other countries -- including those who have yet to suffer a single casualty -- are understandably jittery.

Top officials in Thailand will discuss the possibility of withdrawing the country's 422 troops if the situation continues to deteriorate, Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said Tuesday. Thai soldiers will stay as long as they can carry out their humanitarian duties, he said.

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