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Spain offers poll experts to Iraq

By CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman

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Shia Muslim protester holds banner in Baghdad calling for direct elections.
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MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- Spain says it is prepared to send "experts" to Iraq to help monitor next year's scheduled election but will not redeploy any troops or security personnel.

Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos pledged the personnel after a meeting in New York with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, an aide to Moratinos told CNN.

The new Socialist government, elected in an upset victory three days after the deadly Madrid train bombings in March, pulled Spain's 1,300 troops out of Iraq but vowed to stay involved in efforts to stabilize and bring democracy to Iraq.

The March 11 bombings killed 190 people and wounded more than 1,400.

Moratinos did not specify in his meeting with Annan on Wednesday night how many election experts would be sent or when they would go, according to a Foreign Ministry spokesman in Madrid.

Iraq is scheduled to hold elections "by 31 December 2004 if possible, and in any case no later than by 31 January 2005," according to the country's transitional administrative law.

"Spain will not send troops to Iraq or participate in security missions there," the spokesman said.

Former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar -- a conservative and a staunch ally of the Bush administration in the Iraq war -- sent the 1,300 Spanish peacekeeping troops there last year.

But the new Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who vowed during his underdog election campaign to pull out the troops, did just that after winning the March 14 vote.

He was sworn into office in April and his first order was to withdraw the troops, which displeased the Bush administration. The Spanish troop withdrawal was completed in late May.


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