Don't Hand Al Qaeda Victory, Australia Urges Spain

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:14 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - Australia has called on Spain's incoming Socialist government to reverse its decision to pull its troops out of Iraq, thereby denying al Qaeda the ability to claim a victory over the anti-terror coalition arrayed against it.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer made the appeal during a visit to the Spanish Embassy in Canberra, where he signed a condolence book for the 201 victims of last Thursday's train bombings in Madrid.

Spanish police investigations have pointed increasingly to the likelihood of an al-Qaeda hand behind the attack.

In a radio interview Wednesday, Downer made an impassioned plea for countries not to walk away from the campaign against terrorism.

"We mustn't show them that we're frightened to confront them, that we want to run away, that we want to hide," he said. "If we do that we'll not defeat them, we'll empower them, we'll make them stronger, we'll make them more effective, we'll make them more successful in achieving their ultimate objective."

Prime Minister John Howard's government faces an election later this year, and like Spain's defeated Popular Party government, he is being challenged by an opposition which firmly opposed the war against Iraq.

Australia was one of just three U.S. allies that participated militarily in the invasion, and it still has 850 army, navy and air force personnel in Iraq as its contribution to the country's rehabilitation.

Opposition Labor leader Mark Latham said Wednesday that should his party win the election, it would want to bring the Australian troops home as soon as possible and appropriate.

Commentators in Australia and around the world have been weighing in on the defeat of the conservative Spanish government, just three days after the country's worst ever terrorist attack.

Critics of the move have used terms like "a cave-in," "capitulation" and "appeasement" to describe the announcement by incoming prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero that he will withdraw Spain's 1,300 troops from Iraq if there was no change by the June 30 deadline for the transfer of sovereignty.

Cuban President Fidel Castro seized the opportunity to urge three Latin American countries whose forces in Iraq are serving under Spanish command, to pull out.

El Salvador, Honduras and the Dominican Republic have 1,050 troops between them in Iraq.

The Honduran government said Tuesday it would not extend the deployment of its 370 troops in Iraq beyond July, but said the decision was not linked to Spain's.

In his radio interview, Downer said he had urged Spanish diplomats "for heaven's sake, don't withdraw those troops from Iraq. That is going to be interpreted by al-Qaeda, and by a lot of people around the world, as a great victory for al-Qaeda. Don't give them a victory. Make sure you keep those troops there, protecting the ordinary people of Iraq."

He also challenged the view that support for the war in Iraq in itself made countries more likely targets for terrorists.

"Go back to the core of what al-Qaeda is about. Find out what this organization wants," he said. "This organization is not about ... Iraq. This organization is about converting the whole of the Islamic world to a fundamentalist Islamic-style regime, getting rid of the moderate Islamic nations, attacking and killing people from countries which support moderate Islam, such as our country or the United States or Spain ..."

And in a message aimed specifically at Australians, Downer said they had to have the courage to continue the campaign against terrorists.

Following a policy of "appeasement and weakness" would not make Australia immune from attack, he said.

Canberra Wednesday announced a 400 Australian dollar ($300 million) boost to funding for intelligence and law enforcement agencies involved in counter-terror operations. Howard said the decision had been made before the Madrid bombings, but noted that the funding increase was "certainly timely."

President Bush said Tuesday that terrorists who carried out atrocities like the Madrid bombings aimed "to try to get the world to cower ... to try to shake our will."

"It is essential that the free world remain strong and resolute and determined," he added.

Among countries that this week reiterated their intention to keep their troops in Iraq are some of the biggest contributors - Britain (8,700 troops), Italy (2,800), Poland (2,500), the Netherlands (1,700) and Ukraine (1,600).

Countries that have contributed troops to the U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq are:

In Europe -- Britain, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Denmark, Portugal, Norway, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Romania, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Albania, Macedonia, Slovakia, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan;

In Asia -- Australia, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, New Zealand, Mongolia;

In Latin America -- the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow