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PM thanks Polish Iraq peacekeepers

Polish soldiers carry the coffin of their first killed comrade in Iraq
Polish soldiers carry the coffin of their first killed comrade in Iraq

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BABYLON, Iraq (Reuters) -- Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller told Polish troops in Iraq on Tuesday their mission was essential to rebuild Iraq and keep the world safe, despite the risks they faced.

Speaking to hundreds of troops in the Polish-led multinational division responsible for securing central Iraq, Miller paid tribute to the first Polish soldier killed in action in Iraq -- Major Hieronim Kupczyk, shot in the neck by guerrillas last week.

"This is a costly process, often painful and for many people not yet understood, but it is needed and that is why we are here in Iraq," he said, speaking on Poland's independence day in a partially reconstructed palace near the ancient city of Babylon.

"We're here to help build Iraq a better future and we will remain only until new Iraqi authorities will be able to take responsibility for their country and the security of its citizens."

Kupczyk's killing last week intensified debate at home over Poland's prominent role in supporting the war.

Despite popular opposition to the war, the Polish government backed the U.S.-led campaign to oust former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and since September has led a 23-nation force in central Iraq.

Miller is also scheduled to meet Iraq's U.S. administrator, Paul Bremer, and Iraqi leaders in Baghdad on Tuesday.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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