Spain's withdrawal from Iraq too hasty

Posted: Thursday, April 22, 2004

Although his decision to withdraw troops from Iraq comes as no surprise, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero nonetheless acted with unexpected swiftness in ordering the troops home ''as soon as possible.'' Moreover, his justification for wasting no time he issued the order barely 24 hours after his swearing-in ceremony strains credulity.

Some observers have questioned why the new prime minister did not wait until closer to the June 30 deadline for the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqis. It's a valid question. During his presidential campaign, Mr. Zapatero had said that Spain's 1,300 troops would remain in Iraq if it became clear that the United Nations was in a position to assume the dominant civilian and military role in that country. Now he has concluded that things aren't changing rapidly enough.

... He says he fears that any further delay might open the possibility of some Spanish troops being captured as hostages by Iraqi insurgents, and that to withdraw then, under those circumstances, would be perceived as capitulating to terrorists. But there is no way to avoid such a perception, now that Japan and Italy, two nations whose citizens were held hostage in Iraq, have refused to consider withdrawal.

It's true that Mr. Zapatero made his withdrawal pledge well before the March 11 terrorist bombings of a commuter train in Madrid. Thus, he could legitimately claim that the terrorists did not influence his policy. But that was then. Now, in his hurry to get the troops home, Mr. Zapatero is sending a very different, and disquieting, message.

The Times Union, Albany, N.Y.

April 20

It is not unusual for an incoming political leader to aspire to "hit the ground running." It is rare that one chooses to hit the ground by running away. (Spanish Prime Minister) Zapatero claims that he has acted because there was no prospect of a new U.N. resolution of the sort that would allow him to let Spanish troops stay at station. Yet, as (British Prime Minister Tony) Blair has noted, the coalition and the U.N. are now working more closely in Iraq than at any time since Saddam Hussein fell.

If others join the unseemly rush to the exit, there could be a serious setback to the efforts to rebuild Iraq and to the people of Iraq. Other nations which have soldiers on the ground are vulnerable, particularly Poland whose prime minister is due to step down in two weeks amid domestic political turmoil. The authorities in Warsaw have, nonetheless, reacted with commendable speed to squash any speculation that they are reconsidering their commitment.

It might be shrewd for Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair to expose the hypocrisy of some of those who have called for more U.N. involvement in Iraq yet are now evacuating troops for fear that this participation will arrive. As June 30 approaches, it would be wholly appropriate for the U.N. Security Council to express backing for the institutional arrangements that its own envoy is helping to hammer out and to pledge humanitarian assistance for Iraq over the next year. A new resolution to this effect would be worthwhile.

The Times, London

April 20

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