Spain's new prime minister has ordered Spanish troops to withdraw from Iraq. Washington has reacted coolly to the move, but the pull-out is expected to step up pressure on other U.S. allies in Iraq to follow suit.
Coming home soon.
Hours after the new Spanish cabinet was sworn in on Sunday, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said he wanted Spanish troops out of Iraq as soon as possible, honoring an election campaign pledge that largely swept his party to power last month.
Zapatero had initially said that the United Nations should play the defining role as a condition of its keeping its troops in Iraq beyond June 30. But on Sunday, Zapatero (photo) said that a U.N. resolution seemed unlikely.
Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero
"With the information we have, and which we have gathered over the past few weeks, it is not foreseeable that the United Nations will adopt a resolution, " he said. "These circumstances have led me to take the decision to order the return of our troops with the maximum safety and thus in the shortest time possible," Zapatero said and added that he wasn't caving in to terrorist blackmail.
Spain: Decision won't hurt ties with U.S.
Spain has 1,300 troops stationed in south-central Iraq with responsibility for Diwaniya and the flashpoint Shiite holy city of Najaf. Eleven Spanish soldiers have been killed in Iraq since last August, including seven intelligence officers in a highway ambush in November.
Madrid train bombings on March 11, 2004
The Spanish government's decision to call for a speedy withdrawal of troops is believed to be prompted by the terrorist attacks in Madrid on March 11 (photo), days before the general election, that killed 191 and amounted to the bloodiest in recent Spanish history. A terrorist group with links to al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attacks and said the bombings were punishment for former Spanish premier Aznar's support of the war in Iraq.
Aznar's conservative party was trounced in the polls by Zapatero's Socialists, who promised to pull out Spanish troops from Iraq if voted to power.
Zapatero will send Miguel Angel Moratinos, Spain's new foreign minister to Washignton on Tuesday to explain his government's decision.
On Monday, Moratinos was at pains to emphasize that Madrid's decision to withdraw troops would not damage Spain's relations with the U.S. "This decision should not affect bilateral relations between Spain and the United States," Moratinos told Spanish daily El Pais.
He also added that the new government would fulfill Spain's pledges at the recent Iraq Donor's Conference and aid Iraq's reconstruction and transition to democracy following last year's U.S.-led invasion.
Washington not surprised by Spanish move
Spain's decision to pull out troops quicker than earlier thought has not prompted surprise in the U.S.
"We knew from the recent Spanish election that it was the new prime minister's intention to withdraw Spanish troops from the coalition in Iraq," U.S. presidential spokesman Ken Lisaius told a press conference. "We will work with our coalition partners in Iraq and the Spanish government and expect they will implement their decision in a coordinated, responsible and orderly manner," he said.
National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice
Speaking in an interview with ABC television on Sunday, U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice (photo) too said the Spanish move was to be expected. "We know that the Spanish have been talking about, perhaps, pulling their forces out. I would not be at all surprised if they do."
Pull-out expected to raise pressure on U.S. allies
Though the U.S. has remained unruffled by the Spanish decision, it's not expected to have the same effect on its other allies involved in keeping the peace in an increasingly volatile Iraq.
Portugal is reported to be doing a rethink on its own troops deployment in Iraq and Kazakhstan has already announced it will not be replenishing its troop contingent when its soldiers finish their current tour of duty in Iraq.
Both Italy and Japan are already under pressure in the light of domestic opposition to their involvement in the occupation of Iraq. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi faces mounting wrath at home with the killing of an Italian hostage by Iraqi insurgents last week. Berlusconi's government is currently involved in negotiating the release of three Italian private security guards who are still being held captive in Iraq.
Similarly, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, another close ally of Bush, has also been faced with angry protests in Japan following publication of video footage of the capture three Japanese nationals in Iraq. The three were released over the weekend.
Though both Berlusconi and Koizumi have vowed to stay the course in Iraq, the Spanish pull-out is expected to weaken their resolve.
Australia condemns Spanish move
Hard-line Australian Prime Minister John Howard, however, a strong supporter of the U.S. line in Iraq, has condemned Spain's decision to pull out and vowed to keep Australian forces in the region. Canberra has 850 soldiers in and around Iraq.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard
"It's likely to encourage those that are opposed to the coalition to believe that if they can cause more bloodshed and trouble, then more will pull out," Howard told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio. "It will encourage the insurgency, it will not encourage more peaceful activity in Iraq," Howard said.