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Spain: Intelligence agents 'assassinated' in Iraq

Seven killed, one wounded in ambush south of Baghdad

An ambulance leaves the scene of an ambush in which seven Spanish intelligence agents died Saturday.
An ambulance leaves the scene of an ambush in which seven Spanish intelligence agents died Saturday.

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CNN's Walter Rodgers reports on recent events in Iraq, including the deaths of seven Spanish intelligence agents.
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Espionage and Intelligence

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- In a highway ambush that Spain's defense minister called an assassination, Iraqi insurgents killed seven Spanish intelligence agents Saturday as their eight-person convoy motored south from Baghdad.

"Seven agents of the National Intelligence Center have been assassinated. An eighth has survived," Defense Minister Federico Trillo said in a brief, grim statement broadcast on Spanish television.

Trillo said the attack occurred about 3:45 p.m. (7:45 a.m. EST) in an area under U.S. control. It took place near Suwayrah, 30 miles south of Baghdad, on the main highway connecting Baghdad to Hillah.

The eight agents were headed south in a convoy when their two civilian cars were ambushed by insurgents with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons.

Trillo identified the survivor as Jose Manuel Sanchez Riera, and said he was slightly wounded. The defense minister expressed condolences to the family members in brief, grim remarks.

The eight were on a rotation. Four were to remain in Iraq, and four were to return to Spain.

The bodies were recovered by U.S. troops and taken to a morgue. Senior officials from Spain's intelligence agency were traveling to Baghdad to recover the bodies.

President Bush offered his condolences to Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, according to a written statement issued by a White House press duty officer in Washington.

"This afternoon President Bush called President Aznar to express his sympathy on behalf of the American people for the loss of seven Spanish intelligence agents in Iraq today."

"Aznar thanked Bush for the call and reaffirmed his support for our joint efforts in Iraq," duty officer Allen Abney said.

Spanish state radio said opposition party leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the leader of Spain's Socialist Party, which is opposed to the war, also called the prime minister to express his sorrow over the killings.

Eyewitnesses said one or two cars carrying insurgents were following the Spaniards, who were traveling south in two four-wheel-drive vehicles.

They were fired on by gunmen in the cars and by people on the side of the road in what appeared to be a coordinated ambush.

A 30-minute firefight followed, witnesses said.

Three bodies lay in the road and two in the median, said Rajiv Chandrasekaran, a Washington Post reporter in Iraq. Others at the scene said there were two additional bodies in a burned vehicle.

A boisterous crowd at the scene chanted pro-Saddam Hussein slogans and kicked the bodies after the killings.

These were not the first casualties Spain has suffered in Iraq.

In October, a Spanish diplomat attached to Spain's intelligence agency was shot and killed near his residence. The diplomat, Jose Antonio Bernal Gomez, 30, lived outside a secure area.

Spain -- which has about 1,300 troops stationed in the Polish-controlled sector of Iraq between Baghdad and Basra -- withdrew a half-dozen of its staff earlier this month, not long after the diplomat's death.

Those workers were sent to Jordan, while housing for members of the Spanish mission was moved to a more secure location.

In addition, a Spanish naval officer was killed in the bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad on August 19. Manuel Martin-Oar survived the initial blast but died later from his wounds.

The vast majority of people in Spain have opposed the war in Iraq, despite the government's support of the U.S.-led effort.

CNN's Al Goodman contributed to this report.

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