Paulauskas proposes to "reconsider" Lithuanian troop presence in Iraq

  • 2005-12-14
  • By TBT staff
VILNIUS 's Citing abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. troops, Parliamentary Chairman Arturas Paulauskas opened up a Pandora Box when he proposed this week that it was time for Lithuania to "reconsider" the mission of Lithuanian troops.

The office of President Valdas Adamkus received a letter containing Paulauskas' proposal on Monday, according to reports.

The proposal immediately sparked a flurry of criticism, with Conservation politicians blasting the idea as irresponsible.

Paulauskas, who is in Switzerland, told the Ziniu Radijas radio station that "I think that my proposal to include this issue in the agenda does not mean any radical decisions, especially today," according to the Baltic News Service.

Paulauskas, who is a member of the Social Liberals, one of the four coalition parties, admitted that his proposal was partly due to reports about the harsh treatment of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. forces.

He also seemed to suggest that Lithuania, whose troops are under Polish command, could coordinate a review of its participation in the peacekeeping mission together with other countries. Poland has hinted it would soon pull its troops out.

"My letter suggests considering our vision, deciding on a strategy as to whether we plan and implement it on our own, or we coordinate it with other countries 's that is, discuss issues that are currently discussed in America and other countries," Paulauskas said.

News of the proposal elicited an immediately response from the U.S. State Department.

"There is a debate about our continuing presence in Iraq. Lithuania, as a strong democracy, should have a similar debate," said James Warlick, director of the department's Office of European Security, who is in Vilnius this week.

"But in the end of that debate we have a commitment to security, democracy in Iraq, and we hope that Lithuania will stand with us to ensure that," he said.

Warlick thanked Lithuania for its participation so far in the Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Paulauskas said his letter had been coordinated with the Foreign and Defense ministries, that the latter were reportedly not signatories.

Defense Minister Gediminas Kirkilas told the Baltic News Service that the only proposal that might be considered by the Defense Council would be to pull out Lithuanian troops currently serving in central Iraq, as Poland would withdraw its troops from Iraq next year.

"We, active members of the international coalition in Iraq, cannot act irresponsibly," he said. "Our commitments on keeping the contingent in Denmark's battalion in the British-controlled zone in southern Iraq remain unchanged."

At present there are over 100 Lithuanian soldiers taking part in the peacekeeping mission in Iraq. The LITDET-5 detachment, comprised of some 50 troops from the Grand Duchess Birute Battalion, is serving at Poland's multinational division in the central Iraqi province of Babylon. The detachment is scheduled to return home next month.