View Full Version : Portugal repeats vow to keep troops in Iraq despite violence

04-14-04, 01:15 PM
LISBON (AFP) Apr 14, 2004
Portugal will stand by its pledge to keep its national guard contingent in southern Iraq despite growing unrest in the country and calls to bring them home, Interior Minister Antonio Figueiredo Lopes said on Wednesday. "We will not abandon this nation which has been so martyred," he told parliament. He also repeated Lisbon's willingness to extend its presence in Iraq even after June 30, when Washington is to hand over sovereignty of the country, if asked to do so by the Iraqi governing authority which will take over. The minister said another contingent of national guards was already being prepared to go to Iraq to relieve some of the 120 or so guards currently in the country should the mission be extended. Portugal dispatched the national guards to Iraq in November, immediately after a suicide bomb attack on the Italian base at Nasiriyah where they were to be stationed. Nineteen Italians and nine Iraqis were killed in that attack. The Portuguese national guards are part of a multinational force under British command which is providing security in the south of the war-ravaged country. Left-wing parties argue the nature of their mission has changed to one of engagement in warfare because of the mounting attacks on foreign forces in Iraq and are demanding the national guards be recalled. Three Portuguese guards were slightly injured in an ambush earlier this month near Nasiriyah, fueling opposition arguments that the national guards are being forced into combat situations. But Figueiredo Lopes denied the nature of their mission had been altered. "Despite the worsening of security conditions in Iraq, you can say the area where the national gurads operate is relatively stable," he said, describing the incident in which the three guards were injured as "predictable". Nearly three in four Portuguese, or 71 percent, want the national guards to be withdrawn, a poll published last month found.