THE last of Spain's troops in Iraq will have left by May 27, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said yesterday.
Zapatero told parliament that the Plus Ultra II brigade, the core force in Iraq since December, had now pulled out and that the only troops remaining in the country were support and logistics troops who would carry out the withdrawal.
Spanish troops have already left Iraq's holy Shi'ite city of Najaf, where rebel Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is holed up with his militia, officials said. It is foreseen that by May 27 there will not be any Spanish troops in Iraqi territory. All of them will be in Spain or in international waters on their way to Spain, Zapatero said.
Zapatero won elections three days after train bombings killed 191 people in Madrid in attacks blamed by authorities on al Qaeda-linked militants. His Socialists replaced a strongly pro-American party that had deployed forces in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein.
During the campaign Zapatero had promised to pull out of Iraq unless the United Nations took charge politically and militarily by June 30. But on April 18, Zapatero's second day in office, the new prime minister ordered Spain's 1'400 troops to return home as soon as possible, saying that after consulting world leaders he believed there was no chance Spain's conditions would be met.
The move rankled with U.S. President George W. Bush. Former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, a close ally of Bush and unwavering supporter of the Iraq war, labelled the withdrawal appeasement in the wake of the train bombings. Investigators have said the bombings were carried out by Islamist militants in the name of al Qaeda who claimed revenge for Spain sending troops to Iraq and Afghanistan. With the main Plus Ultra II brigade gone, about 900 Spanish troops reamained, all of them belonging to the special unit carrying out the withdrawal, newspaper El Pais said. Spanish forces have left the flashpoint city of Najaf for their main base at Diwaniya, officials said. It was carried out today and was carried out according to plans, with all security measures and without any problems, General Jose Manuel Munoz said.
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