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Dutch Leader Proposes Keeping Troops in Iraq

June 12, 2004|From Reuters

THE HAGUE — The Dutch government said Friday that it plans to keep about 1,300 troops in Iraq until March 2005 as part of a multinational force, in a boost to the U.S.-led coalition overseeing a transfer of power to Iraqis.

The decision by Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende's center-right government to renew the mandate for its troops to stay in Iraq is expected to be put to the lower house of parliament within two weeks. It is expected to gain approval.

"The mission is not open-ended. The eight-month period is related to the organization of elections and points in the U.N. resolution," Balkenende said.

The U.S. has asked other nations to keep their troops in Iraq beyond June 30, when the U.S.-led coalition is scheduled to hand over power to an interim Iraqi government.

The move to keep Dutch forces in Iraq follows a decision by fellow EU member Spain to withdraw its troops, a move that transformed Madrid from a pillar of the U.S.-led coalition to one of the harshest Western critics of Washington's Iraq policy.

The decision by the Dutch coalition could prove controversial. A recent poll showed that the Dutch public is divided over keeping its forces in Iraq.

The death of a Dutch soldier in a May grenade attack in Iraq shocked the Netherlands. He was the first Dutch soldier to be killed in conflict since 1995.

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