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Ivan Eland: Mayhem in Madrid

Mayhem in Madrid

By Ivan Eland*
March 16, 2004

It appears that the Spanish people can thank the Bush administration for the horrendous bombing of four commuter trains in Madrid that killed 200 people and injured 1,500. Although the New York Times editorialized that the attacks were a “reminder that terrorism is a worldwide threat and that fighting it is not America’s problem alone,” Spain was not attacked randomly. It was apparently attacked for being one of the few nations in the world to support the unnecessary U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Radical Islamic terrorists have apparently struck again, causing mass carnage and the demise of an allied government that has provided key support to U.S. Iraq policy. A videotape, if authenticated, indicates that Spain was attacked for its close association with the U.S. war on Iraq. Thus, contrary to the Bush administration’s attempt to make a silk purse our of a sow’s ear, the U.S. occupation of Iraq has not drawn terrorists away from other places into Iraq but seems to have acted as a recruiting poster for Jihadist attackers around the world. Also, terrorist attacks around the world since September 11—for example, Spain, Indonesia, Morocco, Turkey and Saudi Arabia--indicate that the Islamist militants are attempting to attack cooperative U.S. friends and allies to drive a wedge between them and the superpower. With the fall of the supportive Spanish government and the substitution of a far less compliant Socialist one, the terrorists may very well have accomplished that goal vis-à-vis Spain.

And apparently the Spanish government may have been as devious about the cause of the attacks as the Bush administration has been about the urgent need for a war in Iraq. With the Spanish elections imminent, at least some circumstantial evidence exists to support the Spanish electorate’s suspicion that the government of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar initially blamed Basque separatists for the incident to attempt to dissociate the carnage from its unpopular policy of energetically supporting the U.S. war on Iraq (90 percent of the Spanish public had opposed this policy). According to a Spanish counter terrorism official, Spanish security forces had been following several of the five men arrested long before the bombing. Furthermore, Spanish officials and public and secret court documents indicated that at least one of the suspects, Jamal Zougam, had been linked more than two years ago with an al Qaeda cell operating in Spain.

Public ire over the bombing and the Spanish government’s handling of it could put intense pressure on the incoming Socialist government to fulfill a pledge to withdraw Spain’s 1,300 troops in Iraq absent a United Nations mandate.

For the Bush administration, the bombing in Spain, the repudiation of a government closely allied in the war and the possibility of a Spanish troop withdrawal add to the heap of bad tidings coming out of Iraq at a time when reporters will be doing stories on the first anniversary of the war (coming up March 19). First, last week at a congressional hearing, George Tenet, the CIA’s director, admitted that he had corrected misstatements by Vice President Cheney on Iraq and would have to do so again. Second, recently an Iraqi interim constitution was signed but is probably not worth the paper it’s written on because intense disagreements were papered over and many major issues were left unaddressed. Third, the most powerful Iraqi, Shiite cleric Ayatollah al Sistani, continues to insist on democracy while the Bush administration figures out how to “democratize” Iraq without getting an outcome it may not like. Fourth, American casualties continue unabated as six U.S. soldiers were killed last weekend with ever more sophisticated roadside bombs. Fifth, anti-war protests are resuming—this time with the participation of relatives of soldiers killed during the quagmire.

When the principal original justification for fighting a war proves to be empty—in the Iraq case, the absence of weapons of mass destruction—deceased soldiers’ kin start to question whether their loved ones may have died in vain. Such questions, however, don’t trouble the Bush administration’s chairborne architects of the war. When asked by CNN’s Late Edition whether the war was worth the lives of the 564 U.S. troops killed to date, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld opined, “Oh, my goodness, yes. There's just no question ... 25 million people in Iraq are free.”

The Bush administration has been very cavalier about spending other peoples’ (Americans’ and now their allies’) money and lives on George and Don’s Big Iraqi Adventure. But the natives in America and Spain may be getting restless.


*Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute in Oakland, CA., and author of the book, Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy: Rethinking U.S. Security in the Post-Cold War World. For further articles and studies, see the War on Terrorism and

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