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In Poland, support for US on Iraq seen as unappreciated

From contracts to visas, a feeling of mistreatment

WARSAW -- The husky man with the tiny espresso felt grumpy and unloved.

"It's like this," said Polish legislator Henryk Dzido. "America and Poland are a married couple. The husband -- America -- is a despot, cheating and fooling around on his Polish wife. But she still loves him. Then one day the man tells the wife she has to support herself, but, not to fear, because he will still be her husband."

Dzido's face slipped into the expression of a man who has just lost his seat on a bus.

"This is not a satisfying relationship," he said. "Poland must feel appreciated."

A populist politician, Dzido is harsher than most Poles about relations with the United States. But his sentiments mirror the resignation and bridled anger many of his countrymen feel toward Washington. Warsaw is one of America's most steadfast allies, yet the war in Iraq, where Poland has 2,400 soldiers, has convinced a growing number of Poles that the United States takes them for granted.

"Unfortunately, Poland supports the US in Iraq," said Barbara Skorupinska, an economist hurrying amid the clattering tramlines in downtown Warsaw. "But unfortunately, Poland has gotten nothing out of it. We're disappointed over the way the US has treated us. We feel like a fifth wheel."

Polish disenchantment is rooted in bruised pride and money. More than 70 percent of Poles opposed the Iraq war, but they believed Washington would reward them with huge oil and reconstruction contracts.

Instead, Polish companies have about $70 million in rebuilding contracts and a $13 million weapons deal with the Iraqi Army.

Government officials are also negotiating a $100 million deal for Poland to modernize Iraqi tanks. These contracts and US investment in Poland are far lower than what Poles expected.

"There's a lot of disappointment among ordinary Poles," Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz said in a recent interview. "Poland is the most pro-American society in Europe, yet there is so much criticism" of the United States these days.

Political and financial pressures may force Warsaw to withdraw as many as 1,000 troops from Iraq early next year. Poland, which has lost 13 soldiers in Iraq, leads a shrinking multinational division of about 6,000 troops in the south.

Other countries in the contingent, such as Ukraine and Hungary, are expected to pull out as many as 1,900 troops after the Iraqi elections in January. Poles say they are crucial to the coalition but receive less attention from the United States than does Britain and Italy.

What angers Poles most, however, is a four-letter word: visa. The US Embassy in Warsaw charges Poles $100 per visa application whether the document to travel to America is granted or not.

Then there's the prospect of fingerprinting and mug shots to meet new security regulations. Many Poles consider all this a bewildering slap to their dignity, especially given that millions of Americans come from Polish stock.

"We put a lot into the Iraq war," said Karol Domzala, a student at Warsaw University. "But there's still this visa embarrassment. We're one of the US' best allies, but we have to line up and feel like second-class citizens. The Cold War is over, but I think America still looks at us like we're those poor people in the east."

Despite perceived slights, Poland cradles a deep affinity for the United States. It is the only "red state" in Europe. Poles favored President Bush over Senator John F. Kerry in the last election, and, perhaps because of their strong Catholicism, they prefer a world of religion-driven moral clarity. Warsaw and Washington often gaze through the same prism, and their strategic motives, from dealing with Ukraine to fighting violent extremists, frequently overlap.

Poles are quick to remind a visitor about Casimir Pulaski, the Polish-born cavalry general who fought in the American Revolution. They will talk about their coal miner uncle in Pennsylvania, their sister and her kids in Detroit, their cousin who left decades ago for Chicago, and Ronald Reagan inspiring Polish resistance to the former Soviet Union.

"We do like America," said Andrzej Pietras, a jobless military pilot, perturbed that Warsaw spends $100 million for its forces in Iraq while the nation struggles with 19 percent unemployment. "But we don't always get that feeling back."

The effort by France and Germany to limit the Bush administration's influence on the continent has been diplomatically challenging for Poland, a new member of the European Union. Much of Europe is suspicious of Warsaw's ties to the United States and emphasizes to Poland that it cannot escape its geography. But, so far, Poles have been comfortable looking beyond Paris and Berlin to Washington.

"There will be a quite serious debate about US relations after next year's Polish elections over whether Poland should stay close to the US or drift more toward the European Union," said Edmund Wnuk-Lipinski, a political analyst. "Relations with Washington will be more clearly defined. There's a growing pragmatism on the Polish side."

Tadeusz Iwinski, deputy head of Parliament's Foreign Relations Committee, said: "We are a rather romantic nation. But I think this is a test period for America and Poland. There could be disenchantment if things are not improved."

Henryk Dzido's thick hands made his espresso cup seem the size of a thimble. He smiled at the notion of disenchantment. Almost chuckled at it.

But he was angry and confused and, as snow whirled outside, he dispensed with political parables and romantic analogies and settled into the bluntness that suits him best.

"I don't get America's logic. I just don't understand it," he said. "The US is taking advantage of Poland's age-old sympathy for it. The question is becoming: How will the US be perceived in Poland when this war is over?"

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