Spanish PM Jose Zapatero announced today he's pulling Spain's militarily small but politically significant contingent out of Iraq.
BBC—Full text: Spain's PM calls troops back: Good evening. This morning, once the defence minister [Jose Bono] was sworn in, I gave him the order to make the necessary arrangements for the Spanish troops stationed in Iraq to return home in the shortest time, and with the greatest security possible.
Combine this with the British commander in southern Iraq saying The moment that Sayid Ali says, 'We don't want the Coalition here', we might as well go home, plus the very confused reports as to whether negotiations are going well, poorly, or not at all, and it doesn't look good.
It now appears that the Bush 'strategy' is to hand off the whole mess to anyone who will take it and cut and run on June 30. The theory being that no amount of Islamic zealotry on TV from Iraq (a three day wonder at best) could be as bad as the endless casualty news. The original plan was to keep bases in country after June 30 under a status of forces agreement, but it looks certain there will be none — so the only fig leaf left would be protecting whatever international contingent stepped in for the US. If one does.
This sort of tail-between-the-legs defeat—which although not inevitable looks more likely today than it ever has yet—would be an international political disaster for the US, and I would say a domestic disaster for the Iraqis who would most likely end up with civil war or theocracy. What's so awful to contemplate is the real possibility that this disaster would be better than any of the alternatives (for the US) that may be on offer next as soon as next week if the simmering civil war boils over. (Optimistic fact: the Iraqi community leaders appear to understand how much they all have to lose if this happens.)
Perhaps it's more fair to say that if the US suffers a political defeat it will be the realization — in the economic sense of the term — of the political disaster that Iraq has been for the US since the decision was made to invade without UN backing. It has also in some sense been a military disaster, not in terms of military defeat, but in counting the cost in lives, resources, and attention better spent elsewhere.
More from Zapatero's speech:
In March 2003, more than a year ago, I made a public commitment, which I repeated in February.
I said then that in the event of my being elected prime minister by citizens, I would order the return of the Spanish troops from Iraq if the UN did not take charge of the political and military situation.
With the information we have available and which we have gathered in the course of recent weeks, it is not foreseeable that a UN resolution will be adopted that matches the content [as heard] on which our presence in Iraq was made conditional.
Neither the public statements of the main players involved in this conflict nor the contacts held by the defence minister at my request in the course of the last month provide any evidence allowing one to foresee a substantial variation in the political and military situation existing in Iraq within the period envisaged, and in the manner demanded by the Spanish people.
These circumstances have led me to take the decision to order the return of our soldiers with the maximum security and consequently in the shortest possible time.