MADRID (AFP) – Spain removed its last combat troops from Iraq and the only Spanish soldiers still there are those tasked with organising the withdrawal ordered by the new Socialist government.
A defence ministry spokesman said 248 soldiers flew into Badajoz, southwestern Spain, from Kuwait, after pulling out of the Plus Ultra II brigade, a contingent of the US-led occupation forces in Iraq which also contains Latin Americans.
The defence ministry declined to confirm press reports that there were about 1,000 Spanish soldiers left in Iraq.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero told parliament in Madrid on Tuesday that no Spanish member of the Plus Ultra II brigade remained in Iraq and added that all Spanish personnel would have left Iraq by May 27.
Zapatero’s right-wing predecessor, Jose Maria Aznar, last year sent 1,300 soldiers to take part in the Plus Ultra II brigade, in the face of overwhelming public opposition at home.
When Zapatero ousted Aznar in a general election in March he said the Spanish forces in Iraq would be pulled out if the United Nations did not take over political and military control in the country by June 30.
Under Aznar’s plans, the Spanish troops were to have been rotated this month. But now that Zapatero has decided to withdraw Madrid’s forces completely from Iraq, those sent to relieve the original Plus Ultra II troops will be purely concerned with the logistics of the pull out and will not be involved in combat.
The Plus Ultra II brigade is part of a 9,000-strong Polish-led force controlling a swathe of Iraq south of Baghdad.