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Spain To Withdraw Troops From Iraq

DW staff (ktz)March 15, 2004

Fresh off his surprise electoral victory, Spain's prime minister-elect Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero announced on Monday he would withdraw the country's troops from Iraq.

Zapatero's Socialists campaigned against Spain's support for the Iraq war.Image: AP

Less than 24 hours after being elected the country's next prime minister, Zapatero made good on his campaign promise to bring home Spanish troops stationed in Iraq.

The deployment of some 1,300 soldiers as part of the U.S.-led war in Iraq had been extremely unpopular. Polls conducted in the country last February showed that 90 percent of the population was against outgoing premier Jose Maria Aznar's support for the United State's foreign policy.

The newly elected Socialist leader had campaigned on a policy to withdraw the troops from Iraq. His party topped the polls in Sunday's elections after wide-spread frustration with the government's withholding of information connected to Thursday's bombings in Madrid caused voters to turn away from Aznar's ruling Popular Party (PP).

Speaking to Cadena SER radio, Zapatero called the Iraq war a disaster. "The war has been a disaster, the occupation continues to be a disaster, it has only generated violence," he said Monday morning.

Zapatero said once he cobbles together his coalition and is officially installed as prime minister, he will move to bring the troops home if there is no change in Iraq by the June 30 deadline for transfer of sovereignty from the U.S.-backed authority.

"The Spanish troops which are in Iraq will be returning home," he said in his first post-election interview.

Punishment for the Popular Party

Galerie Spaniens Premierminister Jose Maria Aznar Pressekonferenz Bombenanschläge Madrid
Spain's Premier Minister Jose Maria AznarImage: AP

Spain's leading newspaper El Mundo came down hard on the outgoing government for entering the Iraq conflict and playing down evidence of al Qaeda's connection to Thursday's bombings which killed 200.

"Spain punishes the PP and places it's confidence in Zapatero," it's Monday headline blasted.

Sunday's election, which gave the Socialists a surprising 42.6 percent of the vote compared to the PP's 37.6 percent, was the first time in the country's modern democratic history that a party lost power after holding an absolute majority.

An international message?

Internationally, the defeat of Aznar's party is a setback to U.S. President George W. Bush's efforts to shore up support for his Iraq campaign. The conservative PP is the first of Bush's allies to be ousted at the ballot box, and could leave other European leaders contemplating their next move in Iraq.

In Great Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair continues to be dogged by questions about the war's legality and the coalition's failure to find weapons of mass destruction -- the primary reason cited by Downing Street for its intervention. The loss of Britain's main ally in Europe could further undermine Blair's standing back home.

Bush and Blair "need to engage in some self-criticism" on their decision to launch a war against Iraq, Zapatero said Monday. But British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw played down any negative consequences for the two countries ties in Europe, recalling that the Spanish Socialists and Blair's Labor party have "very good fraternal relations."

He also dismissed the suggestion that Spain, or any other nation, could become immune from terrorist attacks by opposing the Iraq war. "Nobody, nobody, nobody should believe that somehow we can opt out of the war against Islamic terrorism," he said.

"The idea that, somehow, there is some exemption certificate for this war against terrorism is utter nonsense."