Expatica news

Iraq withdrawal starts

27 April 2004

DIWANIYAH-  Spanish troops have completed their pullout from the Iraqi city of Najaf, Gen. Jose Manuel Muñoz Muñoz said Tuesday.

Muñoz told EFE news agency: “The withdrawal from Najaf has just been completed. I’m not going to say how it was done, only that all the necessary security measures were taken and there were no problems.”

Muñoz said the soldiers’ morale “is very high” after having completed the pullout.

More than 100 soldiers, as well as military equipment deployed at the Al-Andalus base in Najaf, have been transferred to the base in the south-central city of Diwaniyah, where they await departure for Spain later Tuesday.

US troops moved into the base as the Spanish soldiers were leaving to prevent its falling into the hands of rebel Iraqi forces under the command of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Some 200 US military police took up positions Monday at the Al-Andalus base, as Spanish convoys headed out to Diwaniyah.

The pullout, however, has not been uneventful.

Spanish forces clashed with Iraqi guerrillas, at least six of whom were killed in a pre-dawn fire-fight Monday.

No Spanish soldiers were killed in the three-hour gun battle near Diwaniyah.

Hostilities broke out as about 50 soldiers travelling in two vehicles were scouting an exit route for the Spanish armed forces’ pullout. The same unit was attacked Sunday.

The situation around Najaf remained tense Tuesday.

More than 40 members of Al-Sadr’s Mahdi militia died in clashes with US Marines that started Monday night in the Shiite holy city, Arab television reported.

The exit from the holy city marks the first phase of the Spanish troops’ withdrawal from Iraq ordered by the new Socialist government.

On 18 April, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero ordered the return of Spain’s troops from Iraq “in the shortest time possible.”

Zapatero said the decision to pull the troops out of Iraq was made because it appeared unlikely that a UN resolution would be adopted that met the conditions of the new Spanish government.

The prime minister had pledged during his campaign that he would bring the troops home unless Iraq was placed under a United Nations mandate.

For the past year, Spain has had some 1,300 soldiers deployed in Iraq in the multinational Plus Ultra Brigade, which also included troops from Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic.

The Spanish government plans to pull out all of its combat troops before 1 June.

Honduras and the Dominican Republic followed Spain’s lead in pulling out of Iraq.

[Copyright EFE with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news