MADRID, Spain – Seven members of Spain's military intelligence agency were killed and one was injured on a highway south of Baghdad (search) Saturday when their convoy was ambushed.
The eight-member Spanish team from the National Intellegence Center (search) was traveling in two civilian vehicles when it was attacked with rocket-propelled grenades and rifle fire at Al Mahmudiyah (search), 18 miles south of Baghdad.
The Spaniards were heading south from the Iraqi capital to the city of Hillah, according to Capt. Ivan Morgan, a spokesman for a multinational division in southern Iraq. The attack took place in an area under command of the U.S. Third Brigade.
The Spaniards weren't the only allies in the war on terror to suffer at the hands of guerrillas Saturday, as two Japanese diplomats were killed after their car was ambushed near the Iraqi city of Tikrit. The two were in the city to attend a reconstruction aid conference, according to Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi.
The Japanese deaths — believed to be the first by hostile fire in a war zone since World War II — came as the Asian nation prepares to send non-combat troops to help rebuild Iraq.
Japanese officials in Tokyo said Sunday that Japan would not change its plans to dispatch the soldiers.
"Japan has a responsibility to provide humanitarian and reconstruction aid in Iraq," Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi (search) said. "There is no change to our policy of not giving into terrorism."
After the attack on the Spanish agents, journalists for Sky News, Fox News' sister network in Britain, saw bodies in the road and a jubilant crowd of Iraqis kicking them.
Sky News gave an eyewitness account of a mob of 20 to 30 people rejoicing over the bodies. One correspondent saw a child of eight or nine pretending to kick a body. Another person was seen with a foot on the chest of one of the bodies. Shouts of "Praise to Saddam!" were heard.
The civilians then reportedly turned hostile to the journalists and they were forced to leave.
Rajiv Chandrasekaran, a reporter for The Washington Post, described the ambush as a "sophisticated, coordinated attack" based on talks he had with people who witnessed the strike.
The Spanish team was trailed by one or two cars carrying Saddam loyalists, witnesses told Chandrasekaran. People in those vehicles then opened fire on the Spaniards' SUVs, forcing the lead vehicle off the road.
"A second band of attackers laying in wait opened fire with rocket-propelled grenades and Kalashnikovs," said Chandrasekaran.
After the first car went up in flames, he said, the two sides exchanged fire in a 20-minute gun battle, according to witness accounts.
Spokesmen for Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar (search) said the government won't be intimidated nor deterred from its mission of attempting to help Iraq achieve peace and democracy following the long dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and the U.S.-led invasion last March that toppled it.
"We are grateful to all the people who serve Spain and Spain's democracy beyond our borders fighting terrorism and guaranteeing freedom and democracy," Justice Minister Jose Maria Michavila said.
President Bush called Aznar Saturday to express sympathy on behalf of the American people for the death of the seven agents, and Aznar thanked Bush for the call and reaffirmed their joint efforts in Iraq, according to a White House spokesperson.
Spain was one of the staunchest supporters of the U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam earlier this year and sent 1,300 soldiers to help maintain order.
In previous attacks, 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.
Other partners in the U.S.-led coalition have also been targeted. On Nov. 12, a truck bomb outside the Italian barracks in Nasiriyah killed 19 Italians and 14 others in an apparent attempt to weaken the resolve of Washington's allies.
On Thursday, insurgents fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the Italian mission in Baghdad, causing damage but no injuries.
November has been the deadliest month for American soldiers since the U.S.-led invasion on March 20 — though the number of assaults has declined in recent days.
Guerrilla attacks on U.S.-led forces in Iraq have dropped some 30 percent in the past two weeks, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez (search), the top U.S. military official in Iraq, told reporters Saturday at the Baghdad Convention Center.
They have fallen from a daily average of 35 to 22. On the worst days earlier this month, the total reached as high as 50 attacks per day. At least 75 U.S. soldiers have been killed in November.
U.S. officials say the arrest of three North Africans in Europe this week on suspicion of recruiting militants to attack the American-led coalition points to an organized international campaign.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.