Barroso criticises Spain

Prime Minister Durão Barroso has sharply criticised the Spanish government’s decision to withdraw troops from Iraq, saying that their disengagement will only exacerbate the situation in Iraq. He has also stressed again that Portugal’s 128 GNR troops will remain in Iraq.

The Spanish policy volte-face follows socialist José Luis Zapatero’s victory in the recent general election. “The new Spanish government announced that it was going to withdraw Iraqi troops and said it was going to increase its presence in Afghanistan. Immediately afterwards al-Qaeda reinforced its threats against Spain. I consider that there is now much more risk in Spain than in Portugal, in spite of the new government having made these statements,” said Durão Barroso, adding: “Safety cannot be bought by capitulating to terrorism”.

Portugal will fulfil the promise it made to her allies

Barroso’s comments were made on the eve of Zapatero’s appearance before his parliament to restate his intention to withdraw troops from Iraq. Spain currently has 1,300 troops stationed in Diwaniya and in the holy city of Najaf. They have been under persistent fire from guerrillas loyal to the anti-American radical religious leader Muqtada al-Sadr.

As for Portuguese troops, Barroso guaranteed that they would stay in Iraq. “What is the alternative? If they all left it would be an unspeakable act of irresponsibility; it would be telling the terrorists they have won. To desert now would be good news for them,” he said. “Portugal will fulfil the promise it made to her allies and to the international community.” But Barroso’s decision has been heavily criticised by the country’s left-wing parties. They have argued that the nature of the GNR mission has changed, from a peacekeeping role to one of engagement in warfare, because of the mounting attacks on foreign forces in Iraq. Now they are demanding that the national guards be recalled.

Zapatero forecast a bloodbath

The Communists said the Prime Minister should follow the example set by the Spanish, but Francisco Louça from the Bloco de Esquerda (Left Bloc) went further, saying: “Zapatero took this exceptional decision because he forecast a bloodbath.” Louça said Portugal’s support for the United States “was turning into a catastrophe”.

And Interior Minister, Antonio Figueiredo Lopes, said that Portugal would consider withdrawing from Iraq if violence worsens. “If, speaking theoretically, the conflict deepens and the police cannot carry out their mission, they will have to withdraw,” he commented in an interview with the public radio station, Antena 1.

Figueiredo Lopes had previously said that Lisbon would stand by its pledge to keep its contingent in Iraq, despite growing unrest in the country and calls to bring them home. “We will not abandon this nation which has been so martyred,” he had told parliament. He had also repeated Lisbon’s willingness to extend its presence in Iraq even after June 30, when Washington is still scheduled to hand over sovereignty of the country, if asked to do so by the Iraqi governing authority which will take over.