WASHINGTON—The group of countries once known as the "Coalition of the Willing" is shrinking, with two more nations slipping out of the multinational force in July and 11 others facing the end of their deployments during the next eight months amid signs that their commitment to remain in Iraq is flagging.
"If there is an outside force in Iraq after this year, it will be a U.S.-British force and it will be hard to pretend it is anything else," said Robert Keohane, a professor of political science at Duke University.
Pentagon officials previously had downplayed the departures of troops from countries such as Spain, which withdrew its soldiers after a new government was elected last spring, and have asserted that the multinational security force is attracting new contributors and additional troops.
But that claim became harder to sustain after the Philippines pulled out its 51 troops this past week, yielding to demands from hostage takers who had threatened to behead a Filipino truck driver who'd been working in Iraq.
The official Coalition list shows 31 countries, plus the United States, contributing forces to Iraq. Gone from the list are Spain, Honduras, the Dominican Republic and the Philippines. New countries recently added are Singapore and the Kingdom of Tonga.
But some countries have little or no presence. Norway brought home a 155-member engineering company that had reached the end of its mission, leaving behind just 10 staff officers to help train Iraqi security forces. A spokesman for the Moldova embassy in Washington said the one-time Soviet state has no troops in Iraq, but planned to send 12 specialists in mine removal sometime in the future.
In a recent interview with National Public Radio, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the United States had asked India and Pakistan to join the effort to stabilize Iraq and stamp out the insurgency. But diplomats from those countries scoff at the idea that they will contribute troops.
"Our minister of external affairs and our prime minister have both mentioned this is not an option," said Sunil Lal, a spokesman for the Indian embassy in Washington. A diplomat from Pakistan said that only requests from the Iraqi government would be considered and "at present there is no such thing."
The only new country to contribute forces recently, the South Pacific Kingdom of Tonga, has limited its mission of 45 Royal Marines to a six-month tour of duty.
They'll end their deployment in December, along with troops from Hungary, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Lithuania, Italy and Denmark.
For some governments, troop commitments to Iraq will be renewed or extended if political leaders have their way. "Our troops will stay in Iraq as long as the Iraqi government decides," Danish Prime Minister Anders Rasmussen told President George Bush in May.
But public opposition could alter deployment schedules for countries providing some of the largest contingents. In Italy, which fields the highest number of foreign troops after the United States and Great Britain, the House of Deputies only narrowly approved extending the presence of 3,120 soldiers through the end of 2004.
Poland, the fourth largest contributor, has no plans to withdraw, but officials have talked about reducing their troops, currently 2,400, next year.
In contrast, South Korea has said it will add 3,000 new troops to the 600 already deployed, and a handful of countries with less than 200 troops in Iraq, such as Albania, Slovakia and Georgia, have promised increases.
"We have been helped by the United States in the Korean peninsula," a diplomat from South Korea said. "There is mutual respect and mutual loyalty. Humanitarian support to Iraq is very important also."
Military experts contend the Multinational Force serves mainly as window dressing. Excluding U.S. forces, foreign troops make up only 6 percent of all military forces in Iraq and fewer still are involved in combat operations.
"At this point, the only real prospects for getting major new aid in fighting the insurgents and creating security lies in giving the Iraqi forces the training, equipment, and political legitimacy they need," said Anthony Cordesman, an Iraq expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a conservative Washington think tank.
"Talking about other nations or NATO providing meaningful new troops," he said. "is little more than election year political nonsense."
(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20040722 USIRAQ COALITION