WARSAW: In a first sign of official criticism in Poland of the US-led invasion of Iraq, President Aleksander Kwasniewski said on Thursday that his country had been "taken for a ride" about the alleged existence of weapons of mass destruction.
"That they deceived us about the weapons of mass destruction, that's true. We were taken for a ride," Mr Kwasniewski said. He argued however that it made no sense to pull troops out of Iraq.
His comments marked the first time Poland has publicly criticized Washington's argument for invading Iraq and for winning support from Poland and other European allies such as Britain and Spain.
Poland heads a 9,000-strong multinational force patrolling a swathe of Iraq south of Baghdad. Warsaw itself has the fourth-largest contingent, with around 2,500 soldiers.
President Kwasniewski was speaking days after the prime minister-elect of Spain, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, said Madrid would withdraw its 1,300 soldiers from the Polish-led contingent by June 30, unless the United Nations took over administration of Iraq.
The Polish head of state questioned the wisdom of pulling foreign troops from the strife-torn country saying such a move could have a counter effect. "What would be the point of pulling the troops if it meant a return to war, ethnic cleansing and conflict in neighbouring countries," he told a group of visiting French journalists.
"If we protest against the United States' dominant role in world politics and we withdraw our troops knowing they will be replaced by US soldiers, what would be the point of such a move?" he questioned.
He said he was disappointed by the new Spanish government's threat to withdraw its 1,300 soldiers. "We cannot alter our mission to stabilize Iraq to one to destabilize the country," he said. "Passiveness will lead us nowhere," he added.