Spaniard follows Bush in Iraq trip

Prime minister's visit intended to boost morale

December 21, 2003|By Laura King | Laura King,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Echoing a holiday gesture made by President Bush last month, the Spanish prime minister paid a surprise Christmas season visit to his country's troops yesterday.

Spain, a coalition ally of the United States in Iraq, was shaken badly by the deaths of seven Spanish intelligence agents in an ambush last month.

After those killings, Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar came under heavy domestic criticism over his country's troop presence here, but he vowed that Spanish troops would continue to serve.

Like Bush's Thanksgiving visit to U.S. soldiers, Aznar's trip was shrouded in secrecy, involving less than four hours on the ground. And like Bush, he turned up unexpectedly in a military mess hall, surprising the Spanish soldiers whose 1,300- member contingent is based in the southern Iraqi town of Diwaniyeh.

Also yesterday, Iraqi police in the northern city of Kirkuk said American soldiers had mistakenly fired on Iraqi police officers at a checkpoint about 50 miles south of the city, killing three and wounding two.

The American military did not issue any statement on the incident, or immediately respond to queries regarding it.

The slain and wounded Iraqi officers were manning a checkpoint about midnight Friday when the American soldiers opened fire on them, apparently mistaking them for bandits, according to accounts by Iraqi police officials.

In what appeared to be the latest instance of vigilante violence against members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, a female former provincial official was shot and critically wounded yesterday in the southern city of Najaf, according to eyewitnesses and Iraqi media accounts. The woman's 5-year-old son was reportedly killed in the attack in front of their home.

It was the third such apparent revenge attack in Najaf in four days. On Friday, a former district mayor was gunned down while out shopping, and on Wednesday, another regime-linked figure was dragged from his car and beaten to death.

All of the former Baathists attacked were thought to have played important roles in the harsh repression of a 1991 uprising by Shiite Muslims against Hussein's rule.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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