Aznar Rules Out Spanish Troops in Iraq
(*Editor's Note: This editor is gritting his teeth at the moment. Aznar was perfectly willing to defy overwhelming public opposition to war in Iraq within his own nation so he could help Mr. Bush paint a veneer of internationality over what is essentially a unilateral American attack on Iraq. He won't help with the fighting, though. No sir. - wrp)Associated Press
Tuesday 18 March 2003
Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar on Tuesday ruled out sending Spanish combat troops to take part in a U.S.-led attack on Iraq but said he would deploy military personnel and equipment in a support capacity and offer warplanes to defend Turkey.
``Spain will not participate in any attack or offensive missions,'' Aznar told Parliament, ending weeks of speculation as to whether Spain would back up its fervent political support of the United States by putting troops in harm's way.
``As a result, there will not be any Spanish troops in the theater of operations,'' said Aznar, whose backing of Washington defies polls showing a vast majority of Spaniards opposed to war in Iraq even with U.N. backing.
Opposition parties and critics had demanded that Aznar clearly define whether Spain would participate in an attack on Iraq that now seems imminent.
Aznar took part in the Azores island summit Sunday that backed the call for early military action to disarm Iraq and oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Spain had also joined the United States and Britain in co-sponsoring a doomed draft U.N. resolution seeking authorization for war to disarm Iraq.
Aznar's address to Parliament, the fourth on Iraq in as many weeks, was interrupted several times by opposition deputies.
As Aznar first stood at the podium, before he even opened his mouth, five United Left deputies raised a banner that read: ``War No, Aznar Resign.''
The premier told the lower chamber that Spain had no military commitments beyond those already covered by bilateral treaties with the United States.
He said its support to the United States and Britain would include a hospital vessel, a mine-clearing unit, a team of chemical detection experts, a frigate and an oil tanker vessel, with personnel totaling about 900 people.
If Iraq attacks neighboring Turkey, he said, Spain has offered NATO six F-18 warplanes to help defend that country, plus a Hercules C-130 refueling plane and a search and rescue helicopter.
The opposition jeered when Aznar said Spain would cooperate ``actively in humanitarian aid operations to civilians'' in response to a call from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Spain's opposition parties are united in opposing any war on Iraq without U.N. approval. ``This war will sow hate,'' Socialist opposition leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said in his response to Aznar.
Referring to Aznar's offer to help in the reconstruction of Iraq, Zapatero asked, ``Why instead of offering reconstruction don't you stop the destruction?''
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