Spanish defense minister: No more troops for Iraq

Published: Thursday, April 29 2004 7:36 a.m. MDT

MADRID, Spain — Spain will not send any more soldiers to Iraq, the defense minister said Thursday during a ceremony marking the official end of the Spanish mission there.

Defense Minister Jose Bono told soldiers, relatives and authorities at the Botoa air base in Talavera la Real in southwest Spain that "the Brigade Plus Ultra II is dissolved and there won't be new troops sent from Spain to Iraq."

The brigade was a Spanish-led unit including troops from El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Honduras and Nicaragua. It was stationed in the south-central cities of Najaf and Diwaniya and assigned with helping in the reconstruction and pacification of Iraq following the U.S.-led war.

On Wednesday, the last 260 of the 1,300 Spanish troops who participated in the U.S.-led occupation returned home. Another 1,000 soldiers remain in Iraq to pack up military hardware and ship it home. The government says those soldiers will be in Spain by May 27.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero announced the pullout April 18, a day after being sworn in as prime minister. His Socialist party won general elections March 14, defeating the conservative Popular Party of then-Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.

Aznar endorsed last year's U.S.-led invasion and ordered the troops deployed to Iraq. Zapatero and most Spaniards opposed the war.

Honduras and the Dominican Republic also said they were pulling out their troops from Iraq.

Zapatero decorated some of the soldiers at Thursday's ceremony and paid homage to the Spaniards who died or were injured in Iraq. Eleven Spaniards have died in Iraq since August, when the first soldiers arrived in Najaf and Diwaniya.

Zapatero and Bono thanked the soldiers for their work and dedication.

"On my behalf and in the name of the Spanish people, our deepest thanks," said Zapatero.

The commander of the Spanish forces, Gen. Fulgencio Coll, said Spanish troops in Iraq had helped set up 111 schools and 20 hospitals, had guarded oil refineries and participated in anti-terrorist operations, among other tasks.

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