PRIME Minister Jose Maria Aznar ruled out withdrawing Spanish forces from Iraq yesterday, only hours after a state funeral for seven Spanish intelligence agents killed in an ambush south of Baghdad. “Withdrawal can never be an option in the face of terror. If we withdrew, all the efforts we have made until now would have been in vain. It would strengthen the power and strategy of the terrorists. It would be giving in to their blackmail,” he told parliament. A strong ally of U.S. President George Bush, Aznar said his government remained committed to liberty, security and stability in Iraq, where some 1'300 Spanish troops are deployed. “Our responsibility is to maintain the calm and firmness to carry out our task despite the grief that the loss of our compatriots has caused us,” he said. He spoke after a state funeral for the seven Spaniards, part of the U.S.-led alliance occupying Iraq, who died when their unmarked vehicles were fired on on Saturday. The deaths have deepened criticism in Spain of the country's involvement in Iraq. At a funeral hall set up at the National Intelligence Centre on the outskirts of Madrid, King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia consoled weeping relatives of the dead as cabinet ministers and opposition leaders stood by. Pall bearers carried in the caskets draped in Spanish flags one by one while a string ensemble played and a chorus sang.
Only relatives and specially invited guests were allowed to attend the funeral, broadcast live by state television. Other media were denied access, as the top brass of Spain's secret service paid final respects to their colleagues. Aznar's decision to address a special session on Iraq drew criticism from opposition parties who said politics had no place on a national day of mourning. Public opinion polls show up to 90 percent of Spaniards opposed the Iraq.

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