Czech Republic to gradually withdraw troops from Iraq


Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg revealed at the weekend that the Czech Republic is working on a plan to gradually withdraw most of its troops from Iraq. At present the Czech contingent consists of around 100 troops in Basra and a handful of military advisers in Baghdad. There's no date set yet for the Czech military presence to be reduced but the move is expected sometime after 2008.

Earlier Jan Velinger spoke to Defence Ministry spokesman Andrej Cirtek and began by asking him what impact Czech personnel had had in Iraq.

"The impact was quite high regarding the small number of Czech troops. Our mission for most of the period was to train Iraqi soldiers and police and we trained them in a lot of activities: not only basic training but also advanced training for special police operations. Special methods for crime investigation and other things which our Iraqi colleagues otherwise wouldn't know. We trained thousands of Iraqis and the 'philosophy' of our help was very simple: we were trying to help Iraqis to help themselves - without any foreign assistance in the future.

"Our mission changed after the end of last year: we no longer train military or police, now our presence in Iraqi has basically two forms. First, four high-ranking officers are located in Baghdad to they continue special training for higher cadre of the Iraqi Armed Forces. Most of the soldiers in our current contingent are a guard unit responsible for guarding the perimeter of the international force's base at Basra airport. It's the duty of the Czech soldiers to protect their British colleagues and troops of other nations."

How closely-tied is the future presence of Czech troops to the withdrawal of British troops?

"We are dependent on the presence of British troops: our presence is naturally very closely related. If the British side reduces the number of troops we will do the same."

Last week saw a visit by an Iraqi parliamentary delegation to Prague and its head asked for a greater military involvement in Iraq by the Czech Republic: that doesn't appear to be in the cards now, does it?

"We will certainly support Iraq now and in the future but we don't think that the best way of support for Iraq in the future will be the presence of Czech soldiers on Iraqi soil. There are many other tools on how to help the Iraq security sector: one of those is the possibility to train Iraqi soldiers and policemen here. Another way of Iraq is the delivery of weapons form the Czech Army stockpile, no longer used by the Czech Army, like light weapons like machine guns or submachine guns or some kind of equipment, for example, uniforms. These are the forms that help will take in the future: a concrete presence of Czech soldiers in Iraq will not be necessary on Czech soil, nor will it be the best way to support the country in the future."