Lesser Known GWoT Allies #1
Romania's name comes from its historical position as part of the far eastern extent of the Roman empire and it is a traditionally Christian nation. Here is a small map for the curious. Romania recently joined NATO and the EU. Their troops in Iraq (860) and Afghanistan (550) are garnering a little more attention lately, but one still rarely hears of them. On a per capita basis they have a significant commitment. Shamefully for me, it is greater than that of Australia, which has a similar population to Romania.
It seems that the current high level of NATO/US Military friendliness with Romania is likely the result of their co-operation during the Balkans campaigns, fighting which was took place close to their home. Interestingly, some of the Romanian soldiers are conscripts, but they are planning to phase out conscription for an all-volunteer military some time in 2007.
Their military seems fairly modern, despite the image created by the Soviet hand-me-down equipment they are frequently seen operating, and they work fairly closely with the other nations involved in the GWoT. In Iraq, 149 Romanian Engineers and 56 Military Intelligence types operate in Ad Diwaniyah under Polish command. Working with the British in An Nasiriyah is an Infantry Batallion approx. 500 strong, along with 100 Military Police (including with the scary-looking fellow on the right). There is also a medical contingent at Abu Ghraib and a few staff officers here and there. In Aghanistan the main Romanian force is an approx. 400 strong Infantry Batallion stationed in Kandahar as well as some officers training Afghan forces.
Sadly several Romanian soldiers have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. The colourful names of units which had been deployed to the sandbox under the Romanian flag include "Black Scorpions", "White Sharks", "Bold Eagles" and "Carpathian Hawks".
The Romanians remain staunch allies with no plans to pull out until they finish the job. You can find information about Romania here (looks like a great holiday destination!), more pictures of their military here and their official military home page here.
Italy has a significant contingent of troops in Iraq – 2850 strong – assisting with security operations since the end of the invasion phase in 2003. They plan to have them back home by December 2006. Sadly, Italian forces have suffered significant losses, around 32 dead. One week which saw the death of eighteen of their Special Police (including fourteen in one bombing) likely contributed to their decision to remove their troops. I think the Italians deserve more international recognition for their sacrifice than they seem to receive.
The Italian forces also brought along some air transport assets, seen at right flying over relics of Ancient Babylon (which happens to be the name of their operation). They are also bringing in attack helicopters and IFVs at the moment. Most Italian troops are deployed at Nassiryah as mentioned above in relation to the Romanians who are operating with them. They in fact took over control of the area from US forces in July 2003. Italy also contributes maritime patrol, mine clearing and a hospital ship to the overall operation. Along with the Italian troops are a number of civilian engineers working on projects such as railroad reconstruction and desalinisation plants.
Here is a nice article written by an American National Guard soldier returned from Iraq detailing his positive interactions with the Italians. On the other hand, no mention of the Italian participation in Iraq can be complete without the mention of a slightly less positive interaction (perhaps "schlemozzle" would be a better word) involving the journalist Giuliana Sgrena. To their credit, despite the hysterics at the time, there was no Spain-like folding of will amongst the Italian politicians. I thank them for their significant commitment. After watching enough Hogan's Heros episodes it's easy to form an impression of the Italian military as a bunch of bumbling fools but this expidition has put paid to that stereotype. There is an Italian Defence Forces web site for more information but I can't find an English version unfortunately.
I mentioned Japan recently in relation to the Australian soldiers who have been helping guard them as they perform their reconstruction work. Unsurprisingly, in addition to contributing engineers they have also sent medical personnel (pictured on the right). Projects their engineers have worked on (and in many cases, completed) include a medical center, water purification plants and schools.
It's wonderful to see their commitment so echo my own sentiments:
On the basis of our experience, we believe that reconstruction of a peaceful Iraq is necessary not only for the peace and stability of the entire Middle East region and the international community but also for the peace and prosperity of Japan itself. In cooperation with other countries, therefore, we plan to provide active assistance to Iraq with Japan Self-Defense Forces troops and civilians as well as with financial aid so Iraq can rebuild itself as soon as possible and its people can live in a free and prosperous society without concerns about their present or their future.
(More information about their commitment to Iraq can be found here.)
Many people are very cynical about the reasons for liberating Iraq (and in fact many would object to my use of the word "liberating") but I feel, regardless of what the reasons for the decision may or may not have been, the opportunity itself is unique and we owe it to the Iraqis and the world in general to make the most of it. Oops, this is Murdoc's blog and it's HIS opinion that you are entitled to, so I should avoid any further political discussion at this point. However I hope that he would agree with my sentiments. And of course I won't mention that if Iraq does turn out to be a bastion of freedom, security and stability in the otherwise trouble Middle East that would bode well for the security of western countries like the USA, Canada, Japan and Australia. Oops.
Happily, our Japanese friends won't be leaving any time soon.
To be continued...
(I will attempt to write up every nation which has at least 250 total troops, engineers and/or medical personnel in Iraq. Therefore, stay tuned for parts 2 and 3).
Foot note: I was saddened by how difficult it was to find the information for this post. Every time I searched for keywords like "romanian" "soldiers" "iraq" or "italian" "soldiers" "iraq", most of the results I came up with had three types of titles: "Italy vows to pull troops out of Iraq", "Romania says it won't pull troops out of Iraq" or "Italian and Romanian soldiers killed in bombing attack". I don't know whether to roll my eyes or shake my head.
—cross-posted at Murdoc Online.