I haven’t much to say about this that I haven’t already said, but the idea of Spain forming part of a NATO contingent which is under a UN mandate would seem to me to represent real progress.
“Yes there is some doubt about the Spanish contingent but otherwise the Iraq force is there,” said one. “It will just be a question of changing their badges and flags to ‘NATO’.”
A U.N.-mandated NATO presence in Iraq could be a face-saving formula for Spain’s incoming Socialist prime minister as allies put pressure on him not to withdraw troops from the country, diplomats said Tuesday.
Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has said he will probably withdraw Spain’s 1,300 troops, who are a key component of the 9,000-strong multinational stabilization force in Iraq’s central-south division.
This would be a major setback for the United States, which wants NATO to take command of this division some time after sovereignty is returned to the Iraqi people on June 30. Even France and Germany, Europe’s fiercest critics of the Iraq war, had backed away from challenging Washington’s ambition.
“Spain’s position now complicates things for NATO,” said one diplomat at the U.S.-dominated military alliance.
“Beyond the political question there is now a question of whether there will be sufficient military capability: you’ve seen how difficult it has been to get forces for Afghanistan.”
However, the two biggest contributors to the stabilization force — Poland and Ukraine — have vowed not to pull their soldiers back, and diplomats say Zapatero may change his mind if NATO takes over with a clear U.N. Security Council mandate.
Indeed, Zapatero’s first comments on the matter after his weekend election victory were ambiguous.
He repeated a campaign pledge to pull out the troops if the United Nations did not take charge by mid-year and promised wide political consultation before setting any plan in stone.
“Even this incoming Spanish government would not be willing to…abandon Iraq, and so putting its troops under a NATO umbrella could be a face-saving formula,” said one diplomat.