Spc. Eric Glassey/U.S. Army
Maj. Gen. Michael Ferriter (right) presents a plaque to Japanese Lt. Col. Takernori Kato at a ceremony ending Japan's troop deployment in Iraq.
Countries scheduled to leave Iraq by the end of the year:
- Czech Republic
Countries scheduled to remain:
- El Salvador
Gunnery Sgt. Jason Bortz/U.S. Marine Corps
Soldiers with the 1st Azerbaijani Peacekeeping Company at a farewell ceremony at Al Asad Air Base in Iraq on Dec. 3. The unit guarded an Iraqi hydroelectric dam.
Most of the last members of the "Coalition of the Willing" are leaving Iraq as the year ends and, with them, the United Nations mandate authorizing their presence.
Nearly every day, with an exchange of salutes, speeches and commemorative plaques, another small contingent of troops says goodbye to the overwhelmingly American force that they've been part of.
In recent days, soldiers from Japan, Tonga and Bosnia have departed from U.S. bases where they've performed guard duty, training and humanitarian missions for much of the past five years. The coalition, which the Bush administration once claimed to number 49 countries, has now dwindled to fewer than a dozen. Even at its most robust, the coalition was always a target for critics, who pointed out that most of its members were tokens in a force that was more than 95 percent American and British.
Only Skeleton Crews Remain
In many cases, the nations that are now officially leaving had already pulled out the bulk of their troops over the past several years.
Japan's commitment to the coalition ended on Dec. 6 with a ceremony marking the withdrawal of the last of its air force personnel. Japan initially provided more than 600 soldiers for reconstruction and humanitarian work in southern Iraq, but withdrew most of them in the summer of 2006 after it was announced that Iraqi troops would take over security in their area.
Some Japanese pilots and ground teams stayed on until now to fly C-130 transport planes that ferried supplies and personnel between Baghdad and southern Iraq.
The Pacific Island nation of Tonga was typical of the smaller nations in the coalition. Ever since June of 2004, it has kept a force of around 50 of its marines in Iraq, with many of them serving alongside U.S. Marines in the violent Anbar province. As troops were rotated in and out, the number of Tongans who served in Iraq at one time or another makes up a significant chunk of the country's 450-member armed force.
Over the past year, the Tongan marines were assigned to guard part of the U.S. military headquarters in Baghdad. Their farewell ceremony on Dec. 4 included a Tongan war chant that boomed through one of the palaces of former dictator Saddam Hussein.
Memorable as that was, it was just one in a string of departures, following the Azerbaijan contingent the day before, and the South Koreans a few days before that. The schedule calls for a half-dozen more units to leave by Dec. 18: the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Denmark, Albania and Moldova.
Iraqi officials say they will allow only six countries to have troops remaining in Iraq after the end of this year. The U.S. will remain under the terms of a newly ratified agreement with the Iraqi government. Britain, Australia, El Salvador, Estonia and Romania will keep a total of about 5,500 troops in Iraq, training the Iraqi military and conducting humanitarian aid missions.
Even those nations remaining are looking to reduce the size of their commitments. The U.S. has agreed to remove all combat troops by the end of 2011. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced Wednesday it will end it's mission in Iraq by May 31. He said draw down the country's 4,100-member force will be complete by the end of July.
Many Were Willing, But Not Able
The significance of the coalition has been questioned since its beginning, as President Bush sought to bring together a group of countries that would demonstrate international support for the invasion of Iraq. Although the White House said before the invasion in March of 2003 that dozens of countries were "publicly committed to the coalition," critics noted that many of them had little to contribute and were deeply beholden to the U.S.
Six had no militaries, and many others were only able to send token numbers of troops. Some of those countries were receiving foreign aid from the U.S., or were seeking American support for joining NATO. Some, such as the tiny Pacific nations of the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau, are former U.S. trust territories that are dependent on American aid and defense.
Academic researchers say the Bush administration apparently tried to put a better face on the coalition by altering lists of coalition members that were posted before the invasion, but failing to show that the documents had been modified.
Researchers Scott Althaus and Kalev Leetaru of the University of Illinois say that a White House document showed there were 45 members of the coalition before the invasion. They say that and other lists were later revised to boost the number of nations to 49, but that there was no notice of the change, so the revised lists appeared to be originals.
Althaus and Leetaru's report notes that the list of coalition members was important, because it bolstered the Bush administration's argument for the invasion.
"It suggested that there were numerous other nations supporting the American military action; not the U.S. acting alone, but a coalition of nations from around the globe forming together to defeat an enemy purported to threaten the world."