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Spain: No combat role in Iraq war

By CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman

Aznar
Aznar, right, met with Bush and Blair, left, for an emergency summit on Iraq on Sunday in the Azores.

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MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- Ending weeks of speculation, Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar told Parliament Tuesday that Spain would not send combat troops to fight alongside the United States and Britain in the expected war on Iraq.

"Spain will not participate in missions of attack or offense. There will not be Spanish troops in offensive attacks," Aznar said.

But he said Spain would contribute 900 troops -- for roles such as medical support and anti-mine capabilities -- and three ships.

This includes the ship Galicia, which is equipped as a field hospital and has troops trained in dealing with nuclear, chemical or biological contamination.

The Galicia would be escorted by a frigate carrying other troops, and the flotilla would be accompanied by the oil tanker supply vessel the Marques de la Ensenada.

Spain also would contribute Army engineers who could defuse land mines, Aznar said.

The announcement that Spain would not send combat troops was met by applause in Parliament in a stormy session that started with sharp antiwar protests against Aznar. A leftist party unveiled a banner reading, "No War. Aznar Resign."

Aznar has aligned his conservative government closely with U.S. President George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair in taking a hard line toward Iraq despite overwhelming public opposition to war.

For weeks there had been speculation, fueled by government leaks to the media, that Spain might send its sole aircraft carrier, which has Harrier fighter jets, to the Gulf region.

But Aznar ruled that out on Tuesday.

In addition to sending support troops and ships, Aznar said Spain would supply military aid, under its NATO commitment, to help protect fellow NATO member Turkey from possible attack by Iraq.

Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio said this NATO aid would include Spanish personnel to staff an AWACs plane, Spanish F-18 fighter jets -- which reports have said would total six jets -- and a Spanish refueling plane.

Spain also has allowed the United States to move troops and equipment for the war through two southern Spanish bases, Rota and Moron, where about 3,000 U.S. troops are typically stationed.

Aznar's conservative Popular Party has an absolute majority in Parliament, and he has not faced any defections from his own ranks.

But all of the Spanish opposition parties in Parliament -- from the Socialists to the Catalan nationalists -- have closed ranks to oppose Aznar's stance on Iraq.

Aznar said the task of disarming Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is the biggest international crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

"It's about living in a world with rules, or a world without rules," Aznar told Parliament, to howls from the opposition.

"Disarming Iraq is legal under a series of U.N. resolutions," Aznar said. "Iraq is in flagrant violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions."

The United States, Britain and Spain co-sponsored a draft U.N. resolution that would have paved the way for war. On Monday, they abandoned efforts to seek a Security Council vote.

"We saw there was no consensus in the U.N. Security Council. It was impossible, due to the threatened veto by some," Aznar said.

France had vowed to veto the new resolution, and Russia indicated it was prepared to do so.


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