| British Prime Minister Tony Blair at a press briefing in London on Thursday. (Reuters)
Babylon, Sept. 4: At the gates of Camp Babylon, a vast army base at the site of the ancient ruins, a threat level sign — “Alert State B” — was subtitled “Stan Gotowski”.
The words were for the benefit of the Polish guards, members of a modern military equivalent of the Tower of Babel that was handed control of a 31,000 square mile swath of south-central Iraq yesterday.
There are 9,500 soldiers from 21 countries in the multinational force, including Nicaraguans, Mongolians, Latvians, Spaniards and Hungarians, all under Polish command.
For the moment they are working in tandem with US marines eager to be gone.
If things go to plan, this is what the latest American-backed UN resolution will see in effect all over the country — a happy rainbow parade of nations taking up some of the strain, and the casualties, of patrolling post-war Iraq.
On the ground things are unlikely to prove so straightforward.
The marines will have to stay a little longer while the Poles get the hang of checking vehicles into the base.
When one American military lorry pulled up yesterday, a pale and bemused Polish guard was presented with a form to fill out. It could have been complex mathematics.
After a few moments’ hesitation, a marine snatched the pen from his hand. “You can tell who’s been here a while and who hasn’t,” said the American. Meanwhile, a convoy of 1,300 Spanish soldiers waited their turn to go through the gate.
In Karbala, the second holiest Shia city in Iraq, a 470-strong Bulgarian force has already been active for a week.
They prefer a more unobtrusive approach than the Americans. “There are Bulgarians here'” said one Karbala resident.
“We feel more relaxed with the Bulgarians,” said Abdelaziz Al-Nasrawi, the deputy mayor. “The Americans were overbearing.”