Czech Republic to keep troops in Iraq until at least end of year


The United States campaign in Iraq was dealt a blow on Wednesday, when the UK said it was withdrawing around a quarter of its troops and Denmark said it was taking almost all of its soldiers home. But what about the Czech Republic - how long will its soldiers remain in Iraq? And what impact will the British troop reduction have on the Czech mission? I spoke to Czech Defence Ministry spokesman Andrej Cirtek.

"We are in close co-operation with the British army and of course decisions taken by the British side will also influence our presence. But for now we have a clear mandate, given by the parliament of the Czech Republic, until the end of the year.

"In the long term Czech troops will withdraw anyway, like any foreign troops, because in the long term the Iraqis must take the responsibility for their own security and be responsible for their own security."

You say you'll be there until the end of the year at least. Do you know when will the Czech government take a decision on whether to extend that mission, past the end of the year?

"The decision is regularly taken in the second half of the year. And the plan of missions of Czech troops is usually approved at the end of the calendar year. So at the end of the year we will know what will be the situation next year and what will the presence of Czech troops in Iraq will be."

Most of the Czech soldiers serving in Iraq are under British control in the south of the country, around Basra. Do you expect that the reduction in the number of British soldiers will have an impact on the Czech mission?

"Our contingent is quite small. It is composed of 100 soldiers. There are basically two elements. The first element is responsible for the security of the base around Basra airport. The second element is Czech military policemen, who control the work of their Iraqi colleagues in Basra.

"Of course such a small contingent requires support, logistic support, from the British side. So in the long term of course our presence depends on the British presence.

"But still - this mission must end some time, sooner or later. So we have been ready since the beginning to withdraw."

Things have become worse in Iraq, I suppose everyone would agree, in the last year or so. It's generally accepted that the country is at civil war. Do you think if the conflict escalated even further, say in the next few months, that the Czech Republic would have to pull out?

"This is a question for the Czech government and Czech Parliament. The Ministry of Defence and the army of the Czech Republic just fulfils the orders and the decisions of the Czech government and Czech Parliament.

"So far our troops are able to do their mission, our troops are ready for danger, and so far their mission is possible."