A month after the U.S. handed sovereignty back to the Iraqis, the violence persists. Terrorists detonated a massive car bomb in Baqubah last week, killing 70 people and injuring dozens more, while insurgents kidnapped a fresh batch of foreign nationals. Amid the violence, another U.S. ally may be pulling out: Ukraine is considering withdrawing its 1,650 soldiers from the coalition forces in Iraq, which include 140,000 U.S. soldiers.
No wonder Secretary of State Colin Powell paid a visit to Hungary and urged its officials--and those of nine other East European states--not to go "weak in the knees" over Iraq. Hungary has only 354 troops there, but the parliamentary mandate that approved the deployment expires this year, and the ruling party may not have the two-thirds majority required to extend their stay. Polls suggest that some 70% of Hungarians are against the idea, and the incumbent party could face a stiff challenge in elections expected next year. Political pressure may also be building in Poland, a staunch ally that contributed 2,500 troops to the occupation. Opposition there to the Iraqi deployment rose from less than 30% after the fall of Baghdad to 75% after the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.
But the U.S. did get an unexpected offer of help last week. The Saudi government proposed that it help finance peacekeeping troops drawn from Muslim countries. But since Iraqi leaders don't want peacekeepers from neighboring nations, the offer of assistance will probably be merely symbolic. Indeed, it allows the Saudis to earn credit in Washington without risking much political fallout at home. "There are so many difficulties in the proposal [for Muslim peacekeepers]," says Hossam Zaki, spokesman for the Arab League. "Under whose command will the Muslim forces be? Will they use force against insurgents? There are many questions, and all of them have unpleasant answers." --By Unmesh Kher. Reported by Mohammed Alkhereiji, Aryn Baker and Andrew Purvis