Commandos depart for Iraq
5 December 2003
AMSTERDAM — A group of about 20 commandos departed on Thursday for southern Iraq to help prevent terror attacks against the 1,100 Dutch troops serving on peacekeeping duties in the bloodied Islamic nation.
Defence Minister Henk Kamp deployed the commandos without waiting for parliamentary approval, having judged the security situation too dangerous to wait any longer. Reconnaissance troops have recently returned from Iraq.
Another 50 commandos will depart for Iraq on Monday and the entire unit will operate and map out a desert region located in the south of the Al Muthanna province, the Dutch patrol region. Minister Kamp wants to know if the area could also be used by terrorists, news agency ANP reported.
The commandos departed without explicit approval from the Lower House of Parliament, Tweede Kamer, because a majority of MPs were not in favour of a separate debate. The Cabinet had approved the deployment on 28 November, when it also resolved to extend the peacekeeping mission by an extra six months.
Opposition Labour PvdA MP Bert Koenders said he was “disappointed” about the blockade of a separate debate from government coalition partners the Christian Democrat CDA and Liberal VVD. MPs will discuss the extension of the mission with Kamp and Foreign Affairs Minister Ben Bot next Wednesday.
The Dutch marines have encountered few problems in Iraq, despite having engaged in a short, but intense gunbattle with looters at a cement factory. Despite the exchange of fire, no injuries were reported and the troops have so far been spared from the almost daily terror attacks committed against coalition troops.
But security concerns were sparked after a recent suicide bombing killed 19 Italian soldiers at their HQ in southern Iraq, just 30km away from the Dutch base. Iraqi police have also arrested an Al Qaeda suspect who allegedly tried to obtain weapons and recruits to attack Dutch troops and oil pipelines in Basra.
A recent security analysis reportedly handed over to the Dutch government also warned that terrorists could be active in the Dutch patrol region, intermingling with and trying to recruit the locals. The worsening security situation initially prompted the cabinet to delay extending the mission after ministers requested more information about the safety of the troops already in Iraq.
Minister Kamp has admitted he receives a continuous flow of reports about possible attacks and that such attacks could also occur in Al Muthanna. But he said if Dutch deaths did occur it would be no reason to withdraw the troops. Instead it was more likely that security would be tightened.
Kamp said he would only consider deploying F-16 fighter jets or Apache combat helicopters to Iraq if an express request was made by the British division commander, an NOS news report said.
Meanwhile, Minister Bot is opposed to proposals aimed at having Nato troops take over duties from US and British forces in Iraq. He said it was “quite premature” to start such a discussion, but admitted he was in favour of revisiting the idea in six months time.
The minister’s comments came after US Secretary of State Colin Powell requested during a meeting of Nato member states on Thursday that the security alliance take over peacekeeping operations in Iraq as quickly as possible. The US wants to withdraw from Iraq over a period of six months, he said.
In other news, Powell reacted much more positively than expected to the creation of a joint-European military force, Minister Bot said after his first meeting with Nato colleagues in Brussels.
Bot has officially replaced Jaap de Hoop Scheffer as Dutch Foreign Minister. De Hoop Scheffer will take up the position of Nato Secretary General in January.
[Copyright Expatica News 2003]
Subject: Dutch news