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Spanish PM Rejects Calls for Pulling Troops Out of Iraq - 2003-12-02

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar has rejected any pullout of Spanish forces from Iraq. The prime minister's comments follow a state funeral for seven Spanish intelligence agents who were killed in an ambush south of Baghdad last Saturday.

Just after Spain's royal family consoled the weeping relatives of the dead agents at the funeral at Madrid's national intelligence center, Mr. Aznar went before Parliament to pledge that his government will not withdraw its 1,300 troops from Iraq.

Mr. Aznar told legislators that the presence of Spanish personnel in Iraq is helping to improve the situation there.

"There is still lots of work to do, and there are many things to be done," he said. "And the presence of our troops and our civilians is contributing to making sure that is happening."

Mr. Aznar says retreat can never be an option in the face of terror. Retreating, he added, would be giving in to terrorist blackmail.

Mr. Aznar has been a steadfast ally of President Bush and his policy toward Iraq, despite the fact that a vast majority of his fellow citizens opposed the war there and continue to question whether it was worth fighting.

Even the head of the opposition Socialist party, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, agreed that this is not the time to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq.

"I want our soldiers to come back as soon as possible, but I understand we have to take responsibility…if we abandon Iraq now, the human disaster in that country can be huge," he said.

But Mr. Rodriguez Zapatero criticized Mr. Aznar for backing the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq without a United Nations mandate.

The killing of the intelligence agents and gruesome television images of their bodies being kicked by Iraqi youths have led to new questioning of the Spanish presence in Iraq, even among some of Mr. Aznar's strongest backers.

The conservative daily El Mundo, which usually supports the prime minister, asked in an editorial whether the risks Spaniards are taking in Iraq contributes to Spain's national security and whether the sacrifice of the agents will contribute to Iraq's democratization.