BAGHDAD ø U.S. military sources said senior commanders have been concerned over
the failure or refusal by several militaries in the coalition to fight
Shi'ite insurgents in central and southern Iraq.
The sources said these non-U.S.
coalition forces have demonstrated an unwillingness to sustain
casualties in battles with the Iranian-backed Mahdi Army.
"The message relayed to some of these forces ø by both commanders and
political leaders ø is that there's no sense in getting hurt or killed in
Iraq," a U.S. military source said.
One exception has been the Polish unit, which demonstrated excellent
capabilities. But the Polish forces were said to have performed poorly in
The most effective forces apart from the United States have been those
from Britain. Britain has deployed nearly 30,000 troops, the second largest
in Iraq, Middle East Newsline reported.
On May 16, Italian troops withdrew from their base in the southern city
of Nasseriya after the outpost was attacked by Mahdi Army combatants.
An Italian soldier was killed and 16 others were injured before the Italian
commander ordered his troops to evacuate Nasseriya and redeploy in an air
force base in Talil about 10 kilometers away.
The U.S. sources said the Italian force demonstrated little resistance
in face of the Mahdi Army attack. They said the Italian soldiers, led by
their commander, sought to flee after the first casualty.
"Most of these allies contributed forces
to Iraq because of the generous U.S. aid package that was promised them,
rather than any belief in the mission."
The result has been that with the exception of Britain, the contribution
of coalition forces has not helped the U.S.-led effort to quell the Sunni
and Shi'ite insurgencies in Iraq. The United States intends to increase
troop deployment by 20,000 soldiers in Iraq over the next few months,
including a brigade that will come from units deployed in Japan and South
Commanders for most of the non-U.S. coalition forces in Iraq acknowledge
that force protection has been priority during their mission in Iraq. The
spokesman for the Italian forces in Iraq, Maj. Antonio Sotelli, said Italian
troops, seeking to avoid an escalation, did not return fire during the Mahdi
Army attack in Nasseriya.
"We have all types of weapons and means to control the situation, but we
do not want to retaliate in a violent way or inflict losses on the other
side," Sotelli said. "We do not want to escalate the situation."
On May 17, Italian troops returned to their base in Nasseriya. Italian
Chief of Staff Adm. Giampaolo Di Paola said the Shi'ite insurgents departed
after being urged to do so by local Shi'ite leaders.
Publicly, U.S. military spokespeople have stressed their appreciation
for the coalition partners. U.S. military officials acknowledged that U.S.
commanders have also ordered tactical withdrawals from Shi'ite cities to
prevent bloodshed. On Thursday, U.S. troops withdrew from Karbala in face of
attacks by the Mahdi Army.
"The [Italian] commander on the ground made the proper force protection
determination, realized that, look, this place isn't that important," Brig.
Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of coalition operations, said. "That was
a simple, prudent measure taken by a commander on the ground for a period of
Privately, however, U.S. military sources said the combat performance of
Italy and other coalition partners has reflected policy set by their
governments in an effort to avoid casualties as well as friction with
Shi'ite insurgents. The sources cited an appeal by Italian Foreign Minister
Franco Frattini for U.S. military commanders to avoid direct attacks on such
Shi'ite cities as Karbala and Najaf.
The U.S. military has detected deteriorating morale and capabilities in
virtually all of the non-U.S. forces in Iraq, the sources said. They said
that some allies such as Czech, Japan, Mongolia and South Korea have hardly
fought in Iraq. Ukrainian troops were said to have fled the battle in
On May 15, British troops killed 16 Mahdi Army combatants during a clash
between Basra and Amara. The fighting began when a British patrol
encountered an ambush.