The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Coalition cracks in ‘Bush’s Vietnam’
Singapore leads pullout

Big Sur (California), April 7: With Iraq rapidly deteriorating into what Senator Edward Kennedy this week called “George W. Bush’s Vietnam”, the US-led “coalition of the willing” is showing signs of serious cracks.

The last soldier from Singapore left Iraq for home on Monday and defence ministry spokesperson Felicia Tang would not make any commitment on whether the city state would send more troops to aid occupation forces there.

Not that Singapore had several divisions in Iraq. It had merely 31 soldiers and a military C-130 transport plane in Iraq, making it clear that its personnel and equipment would be used for supply and humanitarian aid delivery missions. And these soldiers had been in Iraq for no more than two months. During that period, their C-130 was fired upon during as many as a quarter of the sorties it flew, according to a report in The Straits Times, the city state’s leading newspaper.

“This was by far the riskiest exercise we undertook and the first time we were operating in a non-benign area,” Major Francis Ngooi, head of the contingent which returned this week, was quoted in the daily.

In February, 160 Singaporeans who had been on a landing ship tank deployed in the Gulf returned home. Earlier, Singapore had sent 32 of its policemen to train the new Iraqi police force.

Meanwhile, in Bangkok this week, Major General Palangun Klaharn, a defence ministry spokesperson, said Thailand may pull its troops out earlier than planned because of a surge in violence in Iraq.

“We have to look at future variables, whether there will be other troops withdrawn from Iraq or not…If there are other troops withdrawn, then senior military officials and the (Thai) government will have to review the policy”, Palangun said.

In September last year, Thailand sent 450 soldiers to Iraq to help with medical care and road-building. These soldiers returned home after six months and another group of 443 personnel were sent to Iraq for six-months.

They are stationed in Karbala and have not engaged in any combat. But that did not stop two soldiers from being killed when a car rammed into the wall of their camp and exploded, the first Thai soldiers killed abroad since the war in Vietnam.

Thailand’s embassy in Stockholm this week received a letter threatening the kingdom with attacks like those on Spain in revenge for sending troops to Iraq.

“Since Thailand has cooperated with USA, the Satan’s states and have interfered in the concern of Iraq by sending 443 Thai soldiers to the occupied land, we have our duty to inform you that Thailand is one of our targets after Spain”, the letter read.

Also this week, Slovakia’s pro-US foreign minister Eduard Kukan, was discredited and thrown out of the presidential race as he finished a miserable third in the first round of elections.

Kukan, who was a front-runner in earlier opinion polls, had supported the US war in Iraq and earlier in the Balkans against a tide of public opinion.

Slovakia’s present government, which has shown strong political support for the US and sent troops to Iraq, is the second pro-US ruling establishment in Europe — after Spain — to suffer a stunning electoral defeat.

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