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Aznar congratulates Iraqis, urges prudence

Spanish PM says U.N. 'will have a vital role'

From Al Goodman

As Aznar arrives at parliament, demonstrators protest the deaths of two Spanish journalists in Iraq.
As Aznar arrives at parliament, demonstrators protest the deaths of two Spanish journalists in Iraq.

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MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar congratulated coalition forces and the Iraqi people Wednesday for achieving "liberation" but he urged "prudence because there's lots of work still to do."

"The coalition has achieved in three weeks practically the complete collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime," Aznar said at a news conference.

"Baghdad is controlled by the coalition," he said.

Aznar said the Spanish government has information indicating there are still "pockets of resistance but they are not organized," and he doubted there would be large-scale pitched battles ahead in the war.

The prime minister has been one of President Bush's closest allies on the Iraq war, despite public opinion polls in recent weeks that show 90 percent of Spaniards oppose the military action.

Spain has deployed 900 troops and three ships to help in humanitarian efforts in support of the war.

Aznar said the work ahead includes humanitarian aid to the Iraqis and helping them to establish a new administration so "Iraqis can decide their destiny."

"The United Nations will have a vital role in this," Aznar said, echoing the position of Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair on the subject.

Bush gives condolences for journalists' deaths

The Spanish leader also said Bush -- with whom he spoke by phone earlier Wednesday -- expressed his condolences on the deaths of two Spanish journalists in Iraq this week.

"I asked him, and he agreed, that the bodies will be repatriated to Spain as soon as possible," Aznar said of his conversation with Bush.

One of the journalists, an El Mundo newspaper reporter, was killed Monday by an Iraqi missile while with U.S. Army troops south of Baghdad.

The other, a cameraman for Telecinco, was killed Tuesday in Baghdad when U.S. forces struck the Palestine Hotel with a tank shell. The hotel was widely known to be used by international reporters covering the war.

Earlier Wednesday, Spanish photographers in Parliament turned their backs on Aznar to protest the killing of the journalists. When Aznar was at the Senate, in a separate appearance, the television photographers put down their cameras rather than record his appearance.

Aznar spoke at the news conference with Argentine President Eduardo Duhalde, who also expressed his condolences on the deaths of the Spanish journalists.

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