MADRID, Spain (CP) - Leaders of parties that opposed the Iraq war fended off claims Thursday that Spain may be appeasing terrorists by planning to pull its peacekeeping troops out in the wake of the Madrid bombings.
The planned withdrawal is "not a result of improvisation and even less a consequence" of the March 11 attack that killed 201 people, said Jesus Caldera, former Socialist parliamentary spokesman.
A Spanish withdrawal could help tip the balance toward "full respect for international law" and lead to the United Nations taking control in the Middle East country, added Caldera, who is expected to get a top post in prime minister-elect Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's government.
Two students with masks of U.S. President Bush, right, and out-going Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar kiss during a demonstration of students to protest the Madrid train bombings in Barcelona, Spain, Thursday March 18, 2004. (Photo/EFE, Jullian Martin)
The upset winner in elections Sunday that were shaken by the bombings three days earlier, Zapatero campaigned on pledges to pull Spain's 1,300 troops out by June 30 unless the United Nations takes charge in Iraq.
In recent days, he called the occupation a "fiasco" and the U.S.-led war a "disaster."
The planned withdrawal enjoys widespread support in Spain even as it draws criticism from U.S. legislators and allies.
Iraqi sovereignty should be restored, and "that is done by beginning to take away allies of the U.S. intervention," Gaspar Llamazares, leader of the United Left party, said in a TV interview Thursday.
Miguel Benzo was appointed by the outgoing conservative government as head of mission last year in Baghdad. He thinks troops should stay, but said Zapatero "is being misunderstood."
Many countries opposed the war and criticize the occupation. "What he wants to do is rebalance the situation" in a way that "Rodriguez Zapatero believes the people of Spain are demanding," Benzo said.
Presenting his new book, Mission in Iraq, Benzo said agreement seems near on a new constitution and greater UN involvement, which might satisfy Zapatero's concerns.
A vast majority of Spaniards opposed the war, and many said the government's support for it had made the country a target for al-Qaida and provoked the Madrid bombings. Millions of protesters filled the streets the day after the rail bombings.
Outgoing Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar had argued during the war that Iraq supported Islamic terrorism, which is no different than the actions of the ETA armed Basque separatists, who tried to kill him in 1995 with a car bomb.
"Our position is well known: firmness in the fight against terrorism as an international phenomenon; our willingness to lead this process because we have suffered in our country; and to work with all countries that are targets of that threat," government spokesman Eduardo Zaplana said.
Across downtown Madrid from the prime minister's residence at Moncloa Palace, Ana Maria Vidal of the Terrorist Victims Foundation said at a ceremony of homage at Atocha station a week after the bombings that she wanted to tell "not only Spanish society, but the whole world: "You can't make concessions with terrorism. Terrorism is the scourge of this century."
Senior U.S. legislators have assailed Zapatero's break with the policies of Aznar, who dispatched troops to Iraq despite huge popular opposition in Spain.
"Here's a country who stood against terrorism and had a huge terrorist act within their country, and they chose to change their government and to, in a sense, appease terrorists," Representative Dennis Hastert, the top Republican in the U.S. Congress, said Wednesday.
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry also said Zapatero "should not have said he was going to pull out of Iraq."
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, alluding to the Spanish elections, said "You can't let yourself become hostage to this kind of murder. Otherwise, where are we? We're back in the jungle."
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