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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Coalition Members Mull Iraq Pullout

BUDAPEST -- U.S. President George W. Bush's "coalition of the willing" in Iraq isn't quite so willing any more.

In a blow to U.S. efforts to keep countries from deserting the multinational force, Hungary said this week it will not keep troops there beyond March 31. The Czechs plan to pull out by the end of February, the Dutch by the end of March, and Japan is feeling pressure to withdraw.

There's no mad scramble to leave, but that could change after Iraq holds elections in January and nations feel their obligations have ended.

"We should never have sent troops to Iraq. Bringing them back now is already too late," Janos Fekete, a Budapest shopkeeper, said Thursday.

Key allies said this week they will hold firm in Iraq.

Britain said Hungary's decision would not prompt a rethink, and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Thursday his country's 3,000 troops will stay for as long as the Iraqi government wants. Staying on, he said, was part of Italy's duty in "defending democracy in the world."

Nevertheless, Hungary's announcement that it will not keep its 300 noncombat soldiers in Iraq beyond the end of March dealt a blow to the coalition.

Hungary's new prime minister, Ferenc Gyurcsany, says he does not believe in pre-emptive war and has been receptive to public calls for a withdrawal despite an Iraqi request that the troops stay another year. Polls show 60 percent of Hungarians want them home now.

Parliament next week will debate his proposal to extend the troops' mandate, which expires Dec. 31, by three months. But that would require a two-thirds majority vote, and the country's main opposition party has said it will consider an extension only if the troops are given a UN mandate to stay.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has been beset by fresh calls for a pullout of his country's 500 troops from the opposition, which blames his pro-U.S. policy for the beheading this week of a 24-year-old Japanese backpacker. Koizumi has not said whether the forces will extend their aid mission beyond mid-December.

Lawmakers in the Czech Republic voted Thursday to keep 100 military police in Iraq through Feb. 28, but Czech leaders have made it clear they see the Iraqi elections as a logical end to their commitment.

Bulgaria said this week it may "slightly reduce" its contingent of 480 infantry soldiers next year. The Netherlands said its 1,400 troops will finish their mission in March. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania all plan to stay through next June.

Portugal's 120 police in Iraq are set to end their current tour on Nov. 12. The government was expected to decide on Friday whether to keep them there, and Foreign Minister Antonio Monteiro hinted that it would.

"Are we going to give Iraq a chance at sovereignty, or are we going to say 'no' and leave them at the mercy of people with guns?" Monteiro said.