Spanish Pullout ‘Would Send A Terrible Message’ Wolfowitz Says

By Gerry J. Gilmore

Thousands of people gather in a main square of Valencia, Spain, Friday March 12, 2004, during a demonstration to protest the bomb attacks on trains in the Spanish capital Madrid on Thursday that killed nearly 200 people and injured another 1,400.

Emma Ferrer / AP Photo

A withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq would encourage global terrorists that their strategy of violence and mayhem is working to undercut U.S.-coalition resolve, DoD’s No. 2 official recently noted on cable news shows here.

Newly elected Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has vowed he would pull out the 1,300 Spanish soldiers in Iraq by the June 30 transfer of sovereignty, unless the U.N. assumes authority in the war-torn country.

"It would send a terrible message to terrorists if they think that, by killing innocent civilians, particularly on the eve of a democratic election, that they can make us cut and run," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz told CNN correspondent John King March 16.

Al Qaeda operatives are suspected of having committed the March 11 bombings of Madrid commuter trains that killed more than 200 people and wounded more than 1,500. The attack, which occurred on the eve of general elections, is thought to have influenced the Spanish electorate to vote out a government that was a strong ally of U.S.-coalition efforts in Iraq.

Wolfowitz pointed out to King that U.S.-coalition resolve to defeat global terrorism didn’t wane in spite of past terror attacks on the United States, Indonesia and Turkey.

The terrorists, Wolfowitz asserted, "are failing in Iraq," adding, "I hope they don’t succeed in Spain."

A new U.N. resolution that would aid current efforts to establish democracy in Iraq "could be very helpful," Wolfowitz remarked. "One of the things it would do is to make clear that for some period of time, the security of Iraq is in the hands of a multinational force."

The United States, he said to King, "is very committed" to have the June 30 transfer of sovereignty from the Coalition Provisional Authority to the interim Iraqi government occur on schedule.

Wolfowitz praised Spain’s contributions in Iraq and in the overall war on terrorism during a March 15 interview with Fox News Channel journalist Sean Hannity. Spain, the deputy defense secretary noted, "has been a real standup country, and I suppose maybe that’s one of the reasons they came under attack."

Prime Minister Zapatero has used words like "fiasco" to describe the nearly yearlong U.S.-coalition occupation of Iraq. Wolfowitz said he hopes Spanish troops will stay in Iraq, noting he disagrees "very strongly" with Zapatero’s assessment of the situation.

Most Spaniards didn’t support last year’s U.S.-coalition military campaign that deposed Saddam Hussein. However, "even if people think the war was wrong, I don’t see how they could possibly think that letting the terrorists and the killers who are on the loose in Iraq succeed could possibly be a good thing," Wolfowitz concluded.