MADRID, Spain – Hours after seven Spaniards were killed in an Iraqi ambush, the government doggedly promised Saturday to keep its troops in Iraq. But opposition politicians renewed demands for the soldiers to be returned home.
"This attack won't weaken Spain's commitment to peace both in Iraq and in the Middle East," said Mariano Rajoy (search), secretary-general of the ruling Popular Party (search) and its candidate for prime minister in elections next March.
The eight-member team from Spain's National Intelligence Center (search) were attacked with rocket-propelled grenades and rifle fire about 18 miles south of Baghdad. Seven died and one somehow escaped apparently without injury.
TV images showed bodies face-down on a dark road, and a small crowd of Iraqis kicking them.
The incident angered this southern European country whose citizens vehemently opposed the U.S.-led invasion last March that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein. The government of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar (search), however, endorsed it.
President Bush phoned Aznar to express his condolences, as did European Commission President Ramon Prodi, the prime minister's office confirmed late Saturday.
The attack was a painful reminder for Italy. Earlier this month, 17 military personnel and two civilians died in a suicide attack on an Italian military compound in Iraq.
"We are close to Spain in this moment of sorrow, but we know that it is a great country and thus the fight against terrorism will continue together with them," Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said.
Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, secretary-general of the Socialist party and its candidate for prime minister, called it "a day of mourning for the whole country." He opposed the war and Spain's involvement in the aftermath.
The United Left coalition called for the immediate return of Spanish troops. "The mission of these agents sent into the mouth of the wolf to plot in Iraq is not understandable," leader Gaspar Llamazares said. "Spain as an invasion force, and any of its soldiers or agents, are visible targets and unluckily this point has proven today."
Defense Minister Federico Trillo was scheduled to fly to Iraq late Saturday night with the head of the intelligence center, Jorge Dezcallar, to help repatriate the victims' bodies.
The incident hikes the toll of Spanish deaths in Iraq to 10 since the U.S-led invasion.
A Spanish diplomat attached to Spain's intelligence agency was assassinated near his residence in Baghdad on Oct. 9, and a Spanish navy captain was killed in the truck bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad on Aug. 19. Another soldier was killed in an accident.