Spanish Leader Pulls Troops From Spain

Spain's prime minister ordered Spanish troops pulled out of Iraq as soon as possible Sunday, fulfilling a campaign pledge and trying to calm his uneasy nation after deadly bombings that killed 191 people in Madrid.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who swept to victory in elections three days after the bombings, said he acted after deciding the United Nations was unprepared to take over the occupation of Iraq - his condition for keeping Spanish troops in the country.

Militants who claimed responsibility for the March 11 Madrid bombings said they were in retaliation for Spain's role in Iraq.

In the announcement, surprising for its timing, Zapatero said he had ordered his defense minister to ``do what is necessary for the Spanish troops stationed in Iraq to return home in the shortest time possible.''

Zapatero spoke just hours after the new Socialist government was sworn in. His party won March 14 general elections and had pledged to bring Spain's 1,300 troops home unless the United Nations took political and military control.

``With the information we have, and which we have gathered over the past few weeks, it is not foreseeable that the United Nations will adopt a resolution'' that satisfies Spain's terms, Zapatero said.

Public remarks by key officials and contacts that Defense Minister Jose Bono made over the past month show no signs that the political and military situation will change to satisfy Spain's demands by the June 30 deadline, Zapatero said.

He noted that most Spaniards opposed the decision by his predecessor, Jose Maria Aznar, to support the war, and said withdrawing the troops had been a longstanding pledge.

``More than anything, this decision reflects my desire to keep the promise I made to the Spanish people more than a year ago,'' he said.

``Driven by the deepest democratic convictions, the government does not want to, cannot and will not act against or behind the backs of the will of the Spanish people,'' he said.

He said the Spanish government would support efforts by the United Nations or European Union to prepare Iraq for elections and the handover of sovereignty, expected June 30.

[Source: By Daniel Woolls, Associated Press Writer, The Guardian, UK, 18Apr04]

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