Eleanor Shelton is a freelance writer based in the Ann Arbor area.

    When the United States decided it was time to oust Saddam Hussein and obliterate the Baath party in Iraq, it asked for the UN's blessing as well assistance from its traditional allies—it got neither. With the exception of Britain, our leading NATOallies—France, Germany together with newly friendly Russia—challenged the Bush administration with their vehement stand against the war. But a few countries, some more ceremonial than practical, extended their support for the U.S. One of the most substantial of these supporters was Poland.

    Poland's humanitarian and peacekeeping troops officially took up their posts on September 3, 2003 and are currently in the south central sector of Iraq, which includes the provinces of al-Qadisiyah, an-Najaf, Karbala, Wasit and Babilon. There are approximately 2,500 Polish troops in the sector and a total of 9,500 troops under Polish command. As of this report, only two Poles have died in Iraq: one during a training accident and the other was a suicide.

    On Friday, February 13, Dr. Tadeusz Iwinski, secretary of state in the chancellery of the prime minister of Poland and Mr. Jacek Zakowski, Polish author, radio and television journalist squared off in a debate: "A Coalition of the Willing? Poland's Involvement in Iraq." The following is a report on that event in their own words.

    It was not an easy decision to join the coalition although it was a unanimous decision of the Polish government supported overwhelmingly by the Parliament. We joined to confirm our alliance with the U.S., for our own national security and first of all the security of the world. This was our most important military decision since World War II. Of the 2,500 Polish soldiers that went over to Iraq, all volunteered to go. At the last poll, 42 percent of Poles were in favor of the Polish involvement in the coalition. We didn't have any significant protest against this involvement in our country.

    Poland is also in a position to empathize with the Iraqis. We know only too well the hardship of going from one system to another. And because of the lessons learned in the 1930s and 40s we know that sometimes doing nothing is the greater evil.

    There are 25 countries represented in the multinational division that is under Polish command (including Hungary, Slovakia and even Mongolia, Lithuanian and Czech troops went to the British zone) and it is the most secure region in Iraq. There are many Polish non-governmental organizations there to give humanitarian aid and Poland's troops are in Iraq to assist with the humanitarian mission for the betterment of the people of Iraq. We can't ignore this situation—look what happened when the international community ignored what was going on in Rwanda or Kampuchea.

    We've gotten a lot of "thank yous" from Iraqis glad to see us there. I could see this during my stay in Iraq in November last year. And we feel that we must do our part to give a hand in freeing Iraq and make the country and region more secure.

    Why Poland? Why has Poland decided to take a leading role in the coalition? Poland and Iraq have a well-established relationship. In the 1970s and 80s, 40,000 Poles worked in Iraq. We are also convinced of the legality of the coalition through the UN resolutions.

    Poland had no intention of staying in Iraq for a long time. As soon as there is a stable government in Baghdad our military mission will be terminated, and not a day later. We have not been driven by political or economic gains but rather the goal of making the world a safer place. But we do want to be on equal footing with other countries when it comes time for the reconstruction. We have 1,600 Polish entrepreneurs interested in doing business in Iraq.

    Poland shouldn't have joined the "Coalition of the Willing" because it is not a just war. The atrocities that happened in Iraq took place almost 10 years ago, so why are we going in now? The war in Afghanistan against the Taliban and al-Qaida was about what happened on 9/11 and was clearly the right response. But Iraq has nothing to do with this story.

    Poland shouldn't have joined the U.S. in Iraq because the Middle East is not Poland's business, it is not within the Polish zone of interest and possibilities. We need to look to business in Europe or Central and Eastern Europe like Ukraine and Belarus. Poland is not a global power but a local power.

    Poland went into Iraq to strengthen ties with the U.S., which is not a good enough reason to have Polish soldiers die. And I feel that Polish troops will have to be in Iraq for years, maybe 10 years. It is idealistic to think that our troops will pull out the moment Iraq has its own government.

    Poland is a very old country and at the same time a very new one. We are a nation in search of its identity.

    In this first war of the new Poland, it is crucial how the government explains this war and shapes the value system of our new society. Are we joining the "coalition of the willing" for freedom, democracy and dignity, or for short term profits?

    There has been no public explanation of why Iraq is so important to Poland. All the decisions to join the Coalition were made behind closed doors. Poland joined this war against the opinion of the majority, which is not good for a nation that is trying to find its identity. There were no protests, but is that good news or bad news for Poland? Perhaps our citizens are too passive.

    Poland is a country that is still trying to find its place within Europe. We are one of the weaker countries in Europe, so good relations with Germany and France are extremely important. I'm not sure whether we will be able to rebuild the trust with our European neighbors.

    Supporting the U.S. instead of Europe because the U.S. is the only global superpower is a mistake. Powers have no sentiments, they are not grateful. Poland has never been considered an important ally to the U.S. Poland is not seriously considered in U.S. strategic thinking.

    The U.S. unilateral doctrine won't work: it's too idealistic; there is no such thing as a peaceful world. To lean on the U.S. for our security is a mistake; it needs to be local. A multilateral doctrine is better than supremacy or dictatorship.

    Susan Sontag once wrote: we should stay together in suffering, not in foolishness. The thought of Poland as a superpower is foolishness.