- The Washington Times - Monday, December 1, 2003

MADRID — Spanish troops will remain in Iraq as part of the fight against “fanatical terrorism,” Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar said yesterday in a live broadcast to a nation angry about the slaying of seven of its intelligence agents south of Baghdad.

Mr. Aznar, one of the staunchest European supporters of the Iraq war, spoke as the agents’ bodies arrived at a Madrid airport, awaited by about 150 relatives and senior government officials.

“Our freedom is threatened by all terrorists,” the prime minister said. “We know that a withdrawal would be the worst route we could take.”

The attack occurred Saturday, the same day that gunmen killed two Japanese diplomats at a food stand on the road between Baghdad and Tikrit, the first Japanese to die in Iraq since the U.S.-led war began in March.

The ambush could further weaken the already-shaky public support for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who nevertheless affirmed his intention to send noncombat troops to Iraq.

Attacks on U.S. allies continued yesterday when gunmen killed two South Korean electricians and wounded two others near Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, authorities reported.

The U.S. military said a Colombian civilian working as a contractor for the military was killed Saturday in an ambush on a convoy. The South Koreans were shot yesterday while riding in a passenger car apparently en route to Tikrit.

The victims were electricians for a firm contracted by a U.S. company to lay power lines at an electricity transmission station near Tikrit.

Asked in Seoul whether the shootings would affect the government’s decision to send more troops to Iraq, Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Soo-hyuck said, “It is too early to comment. We must take time to analyze things.”

U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said at a news briefing in Baghdad that the Colombian citizen died when insurgents opened fire with small arms on a convoy near the town of Balad, 45 miles north of Baghdad. The Colombian was an employee of the U.S. defense contractor Kellogg, Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton Co.

Also yesterday, U.S. troops repelled simultaneous attacks in the northern city of Samarra, killing 46 Iraqis, wounding at least 18 and capturing eight, the U.S. military said. Five American soldiers and a civilian were wounded.

Many of the dead attackers were found wearing uniforms of the Fedayeen, a militia loyal to Saddam, said Lt. Col. William MacDonald of the 4th Infantry Division, who described the attack as massive and well-coordinated.

The Spanish agents killed Saturday were attacked with rocket-propelled grenades and rifle fire about 18 miles south of Baghdad. Photos of young Iraqis putting their feet on the corpses and raising their arms in triumph were splashed across the front pages of every Madrid newspaper yesterday, and TV stations broadcast the footage repeatedly.

In another development yesterday, a U.S. military commander said American forces have captured three members of Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network in northern Iraq. If confirmed, it would be the first disclosed detention of al Qaeda militants in Iraq.

Col. Joe Anderson, commander of the 2nd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division, said three men, believed to be Iraqi nationals, had been captured in the past two weeks.

He said the captured trio had been transferred to Baghdad for further interrogation.

In Spain, where protests last spring against the Iraq war drew hundreds of thousands of people, the weekend deaths provoked deep anger and calls for Spain to withdraw its 1,300 troops.

“I was shocked with the images as if it were happening to my own brother,” said Gabina Bosco, 70, a homemaker on a morning stroll in downtown Madrid. “But at the same time I felt furious against those who instigated this war and caused this massacre.”

Mr. Aznar, in his short, somber speech, said, “Against fanatical terrorism, there is no other option than confronting it.” He said he had no intention of withdrawing Spanish forces.

“We know that unity is our principal strength, and now is the moment to maintain it even stronger than ever,” he said. “There is no alternative to the defense of freedom, democracy and the values that mark our way of life.”

Antiwar demonstrations in Tokyo yesterday drew a few thousand people, but polls show a majority of the public opposes sending troops to Iraq.

Mr. Koizumi said yesterday his government would stick to its plan to send troops to help in Iraq’s reconstruction.

“Japan has a responsibility to provide humanitarian and reconstruction aid in Iraq,” he said. “There is no change to our policy of not giving in to terrorism.”


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