- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 2, 2003

MADRID — Authorities suspect that the killers of seven Spanish intelligence agents slain in Iraq last week were tipped off by Iraqi contacts working with the agents, reports said yesterday.

A nationally televised funeral was held yesterday for the seven agents, with Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar vowing not to withdraw Spain’s 1,300 troops from Iraq.

In Iraq yesterday, U.S. troops arrested dozens of insurgents in a raid in Hawija, 155 miles north of Baghdad.

In Saturday’s attack, eight Spaniards were returning from Baghdad to the Spanish base in Diwaniyah when they were ambushed by gunmen on a road 18 miles south of the Iraqi capital. One agent survived.

The Spaniards had gone to Baghdad so the new agents could meet “information sources,” the newspaper El Pais reported yesterday, quoting sources in Spain’s National Intelligence Center.

Defense Minister Federico Trillo said the attack probably was linked to the October shooting of Spanish intelligence agent Jose Antonio Bernal. In that attack, the gunmen knew where Mr. Bernal lived in Baghdad. The assailants knocked on the front door of his house and killed him as he ran down the street trying to flee.

“So there may have been a tip-off or betrayal by someone in that community, which is never entirely controllable,” Mr. Trillo told Spanish National Radio on Monday, apparently referring to Iraqis who worked with or knew the Spaniards.

Spain had received several threats prior to Saturday’s attack, and the agents knew their trip was risky, Mr. Trillo said.

News reports said the Defense Ministry’s suspicion of a betrayal was fueled by the fact that the agents made last-minute changes on Saturday, beginning their journey earlier and taking a different route than planned.

The daily El Mundo cited evidence given by the survivor of the attack, Jose Manuel Sanchez Riera, that the agents had been traveling in two vehicles and came under fire from a car behind them. During the shootout, the agents also were attacked from a nearby settlement.

The attack was the worst suffered in Iraq, where Spain has lost 10 men so far.

Yesterday in Hawija, U.S. forces captured more than 100 people, including a former senior member of Saddam Hussein’s elite Republican Guard, Iraqi police said.

Also in the north, insurgents kept up attacks against American-led forces, with a soldier of the 4th Infantry Division killed in a roadside explosion in Samarra, the scene of deadly weekend battles between Americans and Iraqis.

Lt. Col. William MacDonald, spokesman for the 4th Infantry Division, said the raids in Hawija were aimed at capturing former regime members financing guerrilla attacks in the region.

The U.S. Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade detained 20 suspected insurgents, but not Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the top Iraqi fugitive after Saddam. Earlier in the day, a member of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council had said al-Douri was captured in the raid.

“We have no reports that we have captured or killed al-Douri,” Col. MacDonald said. He said the confusion stemmed from local officials’ statement that linked the raids to the hunt for al-Douri.

U.S. officials, who last week posted a $10 million bounty for al-Douri, have pointed to him as a coordinator of incessant attacks on American forces in Iraq.

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