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Spain plans quick pullout of Iraq

By CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman

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CNN's Al Goodman on the Spanish government's plan to pull its troops from Iraq.
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MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- Spain's 1,400 troops in Iraq will be withdrawn "in the shortest possible time," the country's new prime minister said Sunday.

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said his defense minister-designate, Jose Bono, was ordered to make the arrangements as soon as he had been sworn into office with the rest of the new Cabinet on Sunday.

Zapatero had previously said that he would bring Spanish troops home by June 30 unless the United Nations assumed political and military control in Iraq.

Zapatero said there were "no apparent indications" that there would be a U.N. resolution meeting his requirements by the end of June.

The announcement came a day after Zapatero assumed office from Jose Maria Aznar, who supported the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq last year.

"I gave the order to do everything necessary to bring the Spanish troops stationed in Iraq home in the shortest time possible and with the greatest security guarantees," Zapatero said Sunday in a statement broadcast on national television.

The Spanish contingent is based near the Iraqi city of Najaf, where an uprising led by Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr began two weeks ago. They are part of a Polish-led multinational brigade based in southern Iraq.

The decision to pull them out of the country was Zapatero's first since taking power, having won an upset victory over Aznar's conservative Popular Party in last month's parliamentary elections.

It is an abrupt reversal of Aznar's policy, which had been to stand firmly by the Bush administration in the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

The 43-year-old prime minister was elected just three days after the deadly March 11 Madrid train bombings that killed 190 people and wounded 1,800 -- attacks blamed on Islamic terrorists.

The al Qaeda terrorist network had threatened Spain publicly for its support of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, and Spain's National Court has charged 18 people, including 14 Moroccans, in the bombings.

In Washington, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee said Zapatero "jumped the gun" by not waiting to see what steps the United States and the United Nations will take in coming weeks.

"I hope al Qaeda does not misinterpret this, and I hope it's temporary and the Spaniards will be back," Sen. John Warner, R-Virginia, told CNN.

"If they are not willing to stay in Iraq, they could prove that they're still with us in the war on terrorism by sending those Spanish troops to Afghanistan. We need their help there."

White House spokesman Ken Lisaius said: "We will work with our coalition partners in Iraq and the Spanish government, and we expect they will implement their decision in a coordinated, responsible and orderly manner."

Zapatero said Spain would continue to participate in other international peace and security missions.

Spain has 125 troops in Afghanistan, and Zapatero's aides have said he is willing to double that number. He said Spain continues to support the democratic reconstruction of Iraq and will work with the United Nations and European Union toward that end.

He said those measures would be in accord with international law -- an apparent reference to his oft-stated position that the U.S.-led war was not.

Zapatero's comments came in a statement from the prime minister's official residence and office, his first such broadcast as prime minister. He took no questions from reporters.

In other Iraq developments, U.S. troop deaths in Iraq reached 700, with 504 killed in combat, on Sunday as the military added 11 American casualties to the war's death toll. (Full story)

Pope John Paul II called on Iraqi kidnappers Sunday to show "humanity" and free their hostages, including U.S. Army Pfc. Keith Matthew Maupin, 20, a reservist from Batavia, Ohio. (Full story)

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