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Last Updated: Friday, 21 May, 2004, 13:58 GMT 14:58 UK
Last Spanish troops leave Iraq
Spanish soldiers returning from Iraq
The majority of Spanish soldiers have already returned home
The last Spanish soldiers withdrawing from Iraq have crossed the border to Kuwait, fulfilling the new Spanish government's pledge to pull out.

The final contingent handed over its base in the southern town of Diwaniyah to US forces before departing.

Spain's previous government had sent about 1,400 troops to Iraq, despite widespread public opposition.

Meanwhile, a Spanish radio journalist held for a few hours by Shia militants in Najaf has been released.

Spanish state radio RNE said their correspondent Fran Sevilla, 43, who was reporting on the troop withdrawal, had been briefly held on Friday by militants loyal to rebel cleric Moqtada Sadr.

Domino effect fears

In Baghdad, the body believed to be that of Italian hostage Fabio Quattrocchi, killed by his captors on 14 April, has been handed over to the Italian Red Cross, the organisation said.

Mr Quatrocchi's killers, who are believed be still holding three other Italians, had demanded the withdrawal of Italy's 3,000 troops serving in Iraq.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero
Zapatero was the surprise winner of Spain's general election
But while the Spanish troops make their way home, the Italian contingent looks set to stay.

On Thursday, Italian MPs rejected an opposition call for withdrawal.

The Italian soldiers form the third-largest contingent of the coalition, after the US and the UK, and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was insistent that they will be staying put until Iraq is able to govern itself.

The bulk of the Spanish troops returned home on 28 April after quitting their main base in the southern city of Najaf.

Those that remained behind were non-combat personnel working on the logistics of completing the pull-out, officials said.

In April newly elected Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said that there would be no Spanish personnel on Iraqi territory by 27 May.

The loss of the Spanish troops was a blow to the coalition and sparked fears that other countries would soon follow suit.

Honduras and the Dominican Republic said they would also withdraw their smaller contingents.

Flagging support

However, Italy's parliamentary vote on Thursday proved it stood by the US and UK in re-affirming its commitment to keep troops in Iraq.

Mr Berlusconi said that to leave early would represent "an offence to the memory of the fallen and the wonderful and hard job of our soldiers".

On Monday, Italy's first soldier killed in combat in Iraq was buried in Venice. Nineteen other Italian soldiers were killed in a bomb attack in November.

But correspondents say there is growing public discontent over the Italian military involvement in Iraq.

An opinion poll published by La Repubblica newspaper on Thursday suggested that 59% of Italians want their troops to leave Iraq even if the UN asks Italy to remain in the country after the June handover.


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