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Honduras to Withdraw Troops from Iraq

Middle East Online
April 20, 2004

President Ricardo Maduro announced late Monday that the 368 Honduran troops in Iraq would be withdrawn as soon as possible, saying they have accomplished the mission assigned them by the United Nations. "Today I have spoken with the members of the coalition and other friendly countries, and have decided to withdraw the Honduran troops in Iraq," Maduro said.

"I have ordered the secretary of state... to carry out the decision as quickly as possible and in a way that will ensure the safety of our troops," Maduro said in a speech broadcast nationally. The withdrawal of Honduran troops from Iraq comes two days after Spain said it would withdraw its troops from Iraq immediately, drawing reproach from US President George W. Bush as he tries to hold the international coalition together in the face of mounting guerrilla attacks.

Other members of the US-led coalition - Britain, Australia, Italy, Poland, Philippines, Albania - have hastened to confirm they will remain in Iraq. Japan, who has also ruled out any withdrawal of its 550 troops, warned Tuesday that Spain's pullout could prompt other nations to follow suit. Defense Minister Federico Breve earlier had ordered Honduran troops to stop patrolling Najaf, a holy city 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of Baghdad where supporters of outlawed Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr are holding out.

"My government has been closely analyzing the evolving situation in Iraq," said Maduro. "The soldiers have accomplished the goals of their mission," as outlined by the Honduran Congress and "United Nations Security Council resolution 1483," said the president. Maduro said Honduras would continue to "cooperate in the political and diplomatic arenas" to help put Iraq back on its feet and form a democratic, sovereign government.

The United States had requested clarification of Honduras' intentions, a day after Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero announced that Spain's 1,400 troops would leave Iraq "as soon as possible" after it appeared likely that his government's conditions for remaining - UN control of Iraq - would not be fulfilled.

The Spanish-led brigade also includes 374 Salvadoran and 302 Dominican troops whose missions end in July. Nicaragua's 115 troops left Iraq in February and were not replaced because of a lack of funds. Dominican President Hipolito Mejia late Sunday told Zapatero over the telephone: "We will also leave as soon as our mission ends." In San Salvador, Defense Minister General Juan Antonio Martinez said El Salvador would keep its 374 troops in Iraq until the end of their mission.

The April 4 death of a 19-year-old Salvadoran soldier in Najaf and the departure of Spanish troops prompted El Salvador's leftist opposition party to step up the pressure on outgoing President Francisco Flores to withdraw the troops before their mission ends. San Salvador Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez called on president-elect Elias Antonio Saca, who takes over June 1, to bring back Salvadoran troops.

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