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Nations with Troops in Iraq Make No Move to Join Spain

By Richard Bernstein

The New York Times -- BERLIN

The announcement by Spain’s prime minister-elect that he would withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq by midyear was clearly bad news for the other countries that have contributed forces there, but on Monday none of them gave indications that the Spanish move would affect their own troop commitments.

“Revising our positions on Iraq after terrorist attacks would be to admit that terrorists are stronger and that they are right,” the Polish prime minister, Leszek Miller, said at a news conference.

Boguslaw Majewski, spokesman for the Polish Foreign Ministry, said, “We are not contemplating any change, certainly not from the Polish perspective, and we hope that this will remain the perspective of all our coalition partners.”

Similar statements were made Monday by leaders in Britain and Italy, the two other major European contributors, with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi saying that Italy “will not raise its arms in surrender.”

Speaking on BBC Radio on Monday, the British foreign minister, Jack Straw, rejected the idea that Spain might get a kind of immunity from future terrorist attack by disengaging from Iraq.

“The idea that somehow there is some exemption certificate for this war against terrorism is utter nonsense,” Straw said.

“Al-Qaida are absolutely vicious fanatics who not only obviously hate those who were responsible for the military action in Iraq, but hate anybody who upholds democratic values,” he said.

Germany, too, which opposed the American war in Iraq and has no troops in the country, reaffirmed that it would go ahead with a plan to train Iraqi policemen outside Iraq. The Germans also announced that there would be no change in their engagement in Afghanistan, where they are one of the biggest contributors to the NATO forces there.

“There are no such considerations,” Bela Anda, the government spokesman, said at a regular press briefing.

Still, the Spanish election results, in overthrowing the government of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, opens up likelihood of political shifts in Europe away from those who have supported the United States in Iraq.

“The omens for Mr. Blair do not look good this morning,” The Evening Standard editorialized in London. “Not only does he face the possibility of a major attack on British soil, and not only has the war in Iraq patently made no difference to al-Qaida’s capabilities. But it was he who took this country to war in controversial circumstances, when many Britons opposed it -- and Spanish voters have shown afresh the danger of defying public opinion in such dangerous times.”

Britain, Poland and Italy among them have more than 13,000 troops in Iraq. Poland, with about 2,500 troops, commands one of four military zones in Iraq, which includes Spain’s 1,300-troop contingent.

If Spain does withdraw its forces, it will leave the Poles responsible for making up the shortage, a result that may have prompted some harsh criticism of Spain from Polish officials and commentators.

“The eventual withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq means serious trouble for Poland, because Poland will not be able to replace these soldiers,” Bronislaw Komorowski, a former defense minister, said.