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Aznar says successor's Iraq plan is a big mistake
Updated: 2004-03-23 13:44

Spain's outgoing Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar said Monday his successor was making a serious mistake by planning to withdraw troops from Iraq, portraying the move as a concession to terrorism.

In his first interview since his party's stinging defeat in March 14 elections, held in the shadow of train bombings that killed 202 people, Aznar urged Spain not to give in to violence.

"What the terrorists want is for us to throw in the towel. What I ask for, hope and wish is that we never throw in the towel," he said on Telecinco television.

Aznar, a close ally of U.S. President Bush, supported the Iraq war and sent 1,300 Spanish troops there afterwards to help keep the peace.

Incoming Socialist prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has raised controversy with his pledge to withdraw the Spanish troops if the United Nations does not "take charge" there by June 30.

Aznar said withdrawing the troops "seems to me a very serious error."

"When you have such a brutal attack as Spain has suffered ... you have to carry out your responsibilities. The first thing that Mr. Rodriguez Zapatero has to know is what he wants to do with the Spanish troops in Iraq and secondly think what he wants the United Nations to do," he said.

"But to think that you can beat terrorism with concessions seems bad to me. I think that weakening the international coalition fighting terrorism is a very serious error," he said.


Bush and other leading U.S. politicians have urged Zapatero to rethink the move, which some analysts think could have a "domino" effect on other nations which have sent troops to Iraq.

Aznar said he believed the rail attacks had "something to do" with the upset election result. Polls before the attacks had shown Aznar's conservative Popular Party consistently ahead.

He said the government had always told the truth after the March 11 attacks, despite widespread anger over its handling of information on the investigation.

The government initially insisted the armed Basque separatist group ETA was the most likely suspect even though later evidence pointed to Muslim militants.

"I leave with my head held high and proud of the work I have done," Aznar said.

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