Spain in the Line of Fire?

OK here’s a post about Spain that’s all in English. Juan informed comment Cole has a piece about the assasination of the Spanish intelligence officer in Bagdhad yesterday. Cole argues that Bernal may have been singled out in an attempt to get at Spain, who may be seen as a ‘soft’ target. Support for Aznar’s Iraq policy has never been exactly universal in Spain, and elections are due early next year. There is a big disconnect between the declarations of Spanish politicians in the international arena and what they say here in Spain. Officially Spain hasn’t even participated in a war, and any Spanish deaths in Iraq are highly sensitive. Cole’s speculation about the Baathist connection seems to be borne out by the statement from the Spanish government about the victim’s long-standing connections with Iraqui security.

Insurgents assassinated a Spanish diplomat in Baghdad, Jos? Antonio Bernal G?mez, the Information attach? at the Spanish embassy.. They waited until his night guard left at 7 am, and struck before the next guard shift arrived. One of them, who approached, was dressed in the garb of a Shiite cleric. Bernal grew suspicious and tried to flee. The four assailants shot him in the neck and killed him. Bernal was a sergeant in the Air Force and also appears to have served as a field officer for the Spanish National Center for Intelligence (CNI), according to the Diario de Cadiz. That is, his “information attach?” status was a cover for an intelligence posting, which the Spanish government has admitted.. It seems likely that the remnants of Baath intelligence knew of this role and targeted him for this reason. (Surely the CNI shares anything it learns in Iraq with the CIA).

The incident points once again to the survival of the Baath intelligence apparatus, probably now organized in covert cells (a reversion to the Iraqi party’s origins as a secret revolutionary organization in the 1950s. The Baath had attempted to assassinate then president Col. Abd al-Karim al-Qasim in 1961, and this is one of their old-time tools).

This assassination was clearly carefully planned. The Spanish have the third largest foreign contingent of troops in Iraq, 1300, and they lead several hundred other contingents from Central American countries. The guerrillas are betting that the rightwing government of Jose Maria Aznar can be forced to withdraw from Iraq by such attacks, or perhaps even destabilized so that the left gets in and withdraws. Spanish troop presence in Iraq is enormously unpopular in Spain. An unnamed source in the Diario de Cadiz article suggested that the conservative government would tough it out in Iraq, since such adventures are means by which the Spanish bureaucrats hope to recover the sort of power they used to enjoy under Franco.

The detail that one of the attackers was dressed as a Shiite clergyman should not be overlooked. The Baathists are obviously trying to provoke fighting between the Shiites and the Coalition. If Coalition troops go off manhandling lots of Shiite clergymen looking for the suspect in the assassination, they could further alienate them and even perhaps provoke some violence, especially in Sadr City. My advice is to make a good search of the area for the place the Baathist dropped the clerical robes before speeding off.

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About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

5 thoughts on “Spain in the Line of Fire?

  1. Well it seems that Aznar was wrong. Nobody, apart from us who live here, care about Spain in the world…


  2. This seems to be the unfortunate conclusion……the only consolation we could take is that this isn’t the only thing he was wrong about.

    So much for raising Spain’s profile in the world!

  3. Underestimating Spain’s influence seems to be a peculiarly European trait. Spain remains, among Hispanic-Americans, a European country they feel they have a “special relationship” with, akin to the one most Americans have with Britain.

    Spain’s attempts at prosecuting Pinochet, – and other criminals – have also lifted its profile, especially in Latin America and the United States, where the choice of prosecutorial targets is deemed to be more responsible than what the Belgians seem to be capable of.

    Finally, Spain seems to be the destination of choice for Nordic Europeans – with Barcelona being the favorite. I have several Scandinavians friends who are now living in Barcelona, – they certainly have nothing but good reviews for that city, and life in Spain as a whole.

  4. Edward: Yes, of course. Sometimes the contrarian intent gets interpreted the wrong way.

    I do believe in the basic points I’ve been arguing. I’m just a bit surprised that they don’t go down so well with Europeans, and this I interpret to unfamiliarity with the contrarian point of view, which speaks of a certain insularity, and chauvinism, in European education and media.

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