[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Monday, 19 April, 2004, 16:21 GMT 17:21 UK
Spaniards celebrate Iraq pull-out

By Katya Adler
BBC correspondent in Madrid

Most Spaniards have welcomed Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's announcement that he will bring home the 1,300 Spanish peacekeepers from Iraq as quickly as possible since they have no UN mandate to be there.

Spanish troops in Iraq
Spanish troops are leaving Iraq but more are going to Afghanistan
In central Madrid, hundreds poured out on to the streets to celebrate.

Twenty-one-year-old Juan said: " It made me sick every time I see footage of Spanish soldiers in Iraq. We have no business to be there."

Sandra brought her two young children to the spontaneous demo.

"It was wrong of the former conservative government to send the soldiers to Iraq. They travel abroad in the name of Spain but it wasn't what Spanish people wanted," she said.

"Not in My Name" was the caption emblazoned across the T-shirts of the thousands of demonstrators who took part in nationwide protests in August when the then Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar announced the decision to send Spanish peacekeepers to Iraq.

'More vulnerable'

Opinion polls before the Iraq war began showed more than 90% of Spaniards opposed the troops' deployment.

So when their new prime minister announced he would withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq in the name of the Spanish people, he was not exaggerating - much.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero

His move has the support of the majority of Spaniards (72% according to the latest public opinion poll) and all parliamentary parties except, of course, the one that sent the soldiers there in the first place.

Mariano Rajoy, the new leader of the conservative Popular Party which was formerly in government, said Mr Zapatero's decision made Spain "much more vulnerable and weak in the face of terrorism."

The main concern here is that the withdrawal of troops from Iraq will sour important international relations.

Certainly Britain, the United States, Australia and Poland have expressed their dismay.

But Spain's new Foreign Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, says he is confident friendships will not be damaged in the long term.

Resolute

Keen to fully explain Spain's position and to smooth any ruffled feathers he will fly to the Irish Republic, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union Presidency, on Tuesday and then on to Washington.

Since the US champions democracy, Mr Moratinos says, it will understand that the Spanish government must honour its pre-election pledge on Iraq.

But, he says, he will emphasise that Spain remains faithful and resolute in the fight against terror.

Spain's new government has also tried to stress that it may be pulling out its soldiers but it is not turning its back on Iraq.

That news has been welcomed at home and abroad.

Mr Zapatero says Spain will continue to support Iraq's stability, democratisation and reconstruction in line with any United Nations or European Union efforts.

Spain will also honour the pledges made at the International Iraq Donor's Conference and is likely to offer continued non-military assistance in Iraq such as training Iraqi police officers.

He has rejected all accusations that pulling out of Iraq is tantamount to trying to appease terrorists.

Priority

Mr Zapatero, who won Spain's general election three days after the multiple Madrid train bombings, has been accused of trying to fend off further attacks by leaving Iraq.

But Mr Zapatero reminds critics that the pledge on Iraq was a pre-election promise, made long before the bombings.

He says the crucial criteria for staying in Iraq were more political and military control for the UN - which have not been forthcoming.

But Mr Zapatero also points out that Spain will be doubling the number of soldiers in Afghanistan where the UN has a clear mandate.

Shortly after the Madrid bombings, police here found a video threatening more bloodshed in Spain unless it removed itself from what the speaker described as "Muslim lands".

Mr Zapatero has been adamant since winning the 14 March general election that his top priority is the relentless battle against terror both at home and abroad.



PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific