Mon, Aug 03, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Iraq war becomes US-only effort

ONLY AMERICANS: There were no Australian or British troops left in Iraq on Friday, an end to the ‘coalition of the willing,’ which at its height numbered 300,000 troops


A British soldier kisses the Union flag during a handover ceremony to US forces in Basra, Iraq, on March 31.


The war in Iraq is now a US-only effort after the UK and Australia, the last of its international partners, pulled out.

Little attention was paid in Iraq to what effectively ended the so-called “coalition of the willing.”

The quiet end of the coalition was a departure from its creation, which saw then-US president George W. Bush court countries for support before and after the March 2003 invasion.

“We’re grateful to those partners who contributed in the past and we look forward to working with them in the future,” military spokesman Army Lieutenant Colonel Mark Ballesteros said in an e-mail.

At its height, the coalition numbered about 300,000 soldiers from 38 countries — 250,000 from the US, about 40,000 from the UK and the rest ranging from 2,000 Australians to 70 Albanians, but most of the US’ traditional European allies, those who supported actions in Afghanistan and the previous Iraq war, sat it out.

It effectively ended with Friday’s departure of Australian troops and the expiration of the mandate for the tiny remaining contingent from the UK after Iraq’s parliament adjourned without agreeing to allow the troops to stay to protect southern oil ports and train Iraqi troops.

The US military, though, said the withdrawals did not mean it was going it alone in Iraq.

“We haven’t lost our international partners. Rather, there are representatives from around the world here in various capacities, such as NATO, military advisers, law enforcement and construction workers,” said Army Colonel John Robinson, a military spokesman at the US headquarters outside Baghdad.

Australia’s military commander in the Middle East, Major General Mark Kelly, said on Friday that the last 12 Australian soldiers who had been embedded with US units were flown out of Baghdad on Tuesday, three days ahead of the deadline. A security detachment of about 100 soldiers would remain to protect embassy personnel.

The UK withdrew its remaining 100 to 150 mostly Navy personnel to Kuwait, though it was hopeful they might return.

“We are exploring with the Iraqi Government the possibility of resuming some or all of our planned naval activity in advance of ratification,” the UK’s Ministry of Defence said in a statement released on Saturday.

The coalition had a troubled history and began to crumble within months of the US-led invasion as many countries faced political and social unrest over an unpopular war.

Critics said the tiny contingents that partnered with the coalition, such as Estonia, Albania and Romania, gave the US token international support for the invasion.

Mass protests were held in many countries, including Spain, which was one of the most notable withdrawals from the coalition. In 2004, a bombing attack in Madrid linked to Islamic extremists helped overturn the political establishment in Spain and the new leadership pulled out the Spanish troops.

By January 2007, the combined non-US contingent had dwindled to about 14,000. By October 2007, it stood at 20 nations and roughly 11,400 soldiers.

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