Cablegate: Zapatero and Spanish Troops in Iraq: Political

Published: Wed 7 Apr 2004 06:06 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MADRID 001187
E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/07/2014
Classified By: Charge J. Robert Manzanares per 1.5 (b) and (d).
1. (C) Political pressure is high on incoming Socialist
President Rodriguez Zapatero to fulfill his campaign promise
to pull the 1300 Spanish troops out of Iraq absent a new UN
mandate giving the UN the lead role. Zapatero is on the hook
to demonstrate to his supporters that his surprise election
March 14 ushered in a significant change from the Aznar
years. Zapatero, who vehemently opposed the Iraq war, has
repeatedly emphasized, publicly and privately, that he will
comply with his campaign promises. The clearest way to
manifest this would be to pull the troops out. Nonetheless,
the Socialists are sensitive to charges a Spanish withdrawal
following the March 11 Madrid terror attacks would appear to
be cutting and running in the face of terror. A new UNSCR
giving the UN a lead role might provide Zapatero with cover
to keep the troops in, but what exactly Zapatero can accept
remains vague since he has not defined it. We expect him to
take his cues from France and Germany. Public opinion in
the wake of March 11 regards Spain as being in the line of
Jihadist fire because of the Aznar government's Iraq policy
and favors withdrawal. Recent fighting in Najaf between
Spanish forces and Shiite extremists has heightened concerns
about the Iraq deployment. Significant Spanish losses there
could clinch the decision to pull out. End Summary.
The Case for Withdrawal
2. (C) Zapatero has been vehemently against the Iraq war
from the beginning. He has consistently maintained that the
war was founded on lies, and is immoral and illegal. Many
of the 11 million Spaniards who voted for the Socialists on
March 14 share his view. Many Socialists, especially those
on the left, want the troops out now regardless of a UN
resolution. As far as Spanish opinion as a whole, according
to a radio (Cadena Ser) poll last week, 38% of respondents
favored Spanish troops staying in Iraq if there were a new UN
mandate while 42% favor pulling the troops out even if the UN
takes control of Iraq. Only a small percentage favor the
troops staying under the current mandate. Many Socialists
are uncomfortable with the assertive international role for
Spain that Aznar espoused and, since the March 11 attacks,
believe Aznar's alliance with the US put Spain in the direct
line of fire for Islamist terrorists.
Caving in to Terrorists?
3. (C) The Socialists are, however, sensitive to the charge
that withdrawal from Iraq means caving in to terrorist
blackmail following March 11. They note that Zapatero's
pledge to withdraw long predated March 11 (though the
Socialists would not have been elected had the March 11
attacks not taken place). Jose Blanco, Socialist Party
National Coordinator, noted on April 6: "Let's not mix apples
and oranges. One thing is terrorism which has to be fought
on all fronts. Another thing is our politics concerning the
war in Iraq. Politically we shouldn't link one thing with
the other." Popular sentiment, however, does link them.
Many believe Spain is now exposed to jihadist terrorism as a
result of a military deployment in Iraq that most Spaniards
4. (C) Antiterrorism marchers numbering 25,000 turned out
April 5 in Leganes, the site of the April 3 shootout and
suicide of the suspected leaders of the March 11 Madrid
terror attacks. The march underlined that many Spaniards do
link the March 11 terror attacks to Spain's presence in Iraq.
The communique for the march, at the urging of the Socialist
mayor of Leganes, included an explicit call for Spain to
withdraw its troops from Iraq. (This prompted Aznar's
Popular Party to boycott the march and organize its own on
April 6). The message that came out of the April 5 rally
was that since Spaniards never wanted to be in Iraq in the
first place, Spain should withdraw, lower its profile, and
thereby remove itself as a target. Images of the Shiite
riots in Najaf and elsewhere further agitated Spanish opinion
against Spain's presence in Iraq, as did reports that Spanish
troops returned fire on rioters in Najaf April 4, killing
about 20.
UN Resolution Giving UN a Lead Role
5. (C) FM designate Moratinos has been in the lead in
holding up the possibility that a new UNSCR giving the UN the
leading role in the Iraq could satisfy Zapatero's electoral
pledge. However, Zapatero and his key political advisors
such as Jose Blanco and Jesus Caldera, have been less forward
leaning than Moratinos. The posture of France and Germany
on a new resolution should be important, since Zapatero has
made it clear that he wants to follow their lead. If France
and Germany are on board, Zapatero will feel pressure to
follow suit. One prominent commentator, well connected in
the PSOE, noted to us that if, for example, France were
willing to commit troops to Iraq under a new UNSCR, Zapatero
would be able to show that the situation had fundamentally
changed and keep Spanish troops there.
6. (C) Indications are that Zapatero has not made a final
decision on what to do about the troops. The "pull the
troops out" sentiment from his base, and which his key
political advisors share, will be a critical factor weighing
on him. For Zapatero, the easiest scenario would be no new
UN resolution, which would mean he would have no choice but
to pull the troops out. A UN resolution expanding the UN
role will force him to make a choice. In this case,
Zapatero's allies in the all important Prisa media group
might be able to help him sell the line that he had won by
successfully pushing for an increased UN role and give him
cover to keep the troops in. Zapatero may also be
susceptible to the argument that, whatever the rationale or
lack thereof for the war, undercutting the coalition now
could prove disastrous. Nonetheless, escalation of fighting
in Southern Iraq, particularly if Spanish forces suffer
significant losses, may clinch the decision in favor of
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