Poland to keep troops in Iraq despite attack

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WARSAW, Oct 3 (Reuters) Poland will not withdraw its 1,000-strong troop contingent from Iraq after the Polish ambassador was wounded in an attack on his convoy in Baghdad today, Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski said.

''Desertion is always the worst option,'' Kaczynski told reporters. ''This is a difficult situation, but those who became engaged and were there for years and then withdraw are making the worst possible mistake.'' The Polish ambassador, General Edward Pietrzyk, was wounded and one of his bodyguards was killed when his diplomatic convoy came under attack in the Iraqi capital today.

Kaczynski and his twin brother Lech, Poland's president, are conservatives and strong allies of the United States who support extending the Iraq mission beyond the end of the year even though most Poles want to bring the troops home.

Some opposition parties in the European Union's largest ex-communist state are calling for the end to the mission and the Wednesday attack could bring the issue into the campaign for a snap parliamentary election on October 21.

Kaczynski urged the opposition to rally behind the government, saying any internal split would encourage more attacks on Polish officials or troops in Iraq.

''This should not be used in the election campaign because it would be the worst outcome if terrorists would have an effect on what happens in a democratic country,'' he said.

A leader of the Polish opposition agreed the attack should not influence the election, but said the government should not prolong its Iraq mission beyond the current mandate, which is set to expire this year.

''We should not make a rush judgment and break any existing commitments,'' said Bronislaw Komorowski, former defence minister and a leader of the largest opposition party.

''Poland should not extend the mission and it's disconcerting that President Lech Kaczynski has suggested the mission could be prolonged even beyond 2008.'' Komorowski's Civic Platform has been level with the ruling conservatives in recent polls.

Aleksander Kwasniewski, a former president who made the call to send the troops to Iraq and is now a major figure in the second largest opposition party, leftist LiD, shared the view Polish troops should leave Iraq at the end of the year.

''The mission is coming to an end and now is the time to end it.

Should President Lech Kaczynski ask me, I would say we have to pull out by the end of the year,'' said Kwasniewski told a television station.

REUTERS SBA AS0045

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