Calin Neacsu Agence France Presse, Arab News
ZAGREB, 28 July 2003 - The decision by Croatia’s government to contribute troops to an international peacekeeping operation in Iraq, widely seen as taken to boost the Balkan country’s chances of joining NATO, has stirred controversy at home.
The decision earlier this month to send a special forces unit of some 60 troops to Iraq has proved deeply unpopular among Croatians, prompted religious authorities to speak out, and even threatened to split the government coalition. At a recent meeting the heads of Croatia’s religious communities issued an appeal that "Croatia should not be involved in conflicts but rather give its constructive contribution to establishment of a peaceful and just world order."
The head of the country’s minority Muslim community, Sevko Omerbasic, voiced concern over a possible terrorist "answer" against Croatia, and questioned why the government wants to send a special forces unit that would participate in dangerous missions rather than in humanitarian actions. The dispatch of the troops is deeply unpopular among Croatians, as was the case with the war in Iraq.
Over 93 percent of 1,000 people surveyed opposed sending the troops to Iraq, mostly arguing that they "should not risk their lives for someone else’s goals," showed an opinion poll published Saturday by Jutarnji List independent daily.
Even within the ruling coalition there are disagreements over the issue, with the second-largest party, the Croatian Peasants’ Party (HSS), opposing it. Party officials say the memory of the 20,000 lives lost in the 1991-95 conflict with Serbs are still fresh. "We cannot even imagine that such things (could) happen to our soldiers in Iraq," said HSS spokeswoman Mirjana Petir stressing that the deployment was "unacceptable" for her party.
The largest party in the coalition, the Social Democratic Party, has argued that sending the troops would boost the country’s chances to join NATO. "Croatia’s participation (in Iraq) would give strong impulse not only to enter NATO but also other integrations," stressed deputy parliamentary speaker Mato Arlovic, an SDP official.