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Bodybag blow to four nations

Baghdad, Nov. 30 (Reuters): A dozen people from four nations helping the US military were killed on a bloody weekend in Iraq that sparked new debate among Washington’s allies about the benefits of getting involved.

In all, 14 deaths — of two South Koreans, seven Spaniards, two Japanese and a Colombian as well as two American soldiers — rounded off the bloodiest month for the occupying forces since the US invasion to oust Saddam Hussein in March.

Soldiers and civilians from about a dozen allied nations have now been killed in Iraq, in addition to Americans and Iraqis and employees of international organisations, aid agencies and media operating independently of the US forces.

The casualties will also be carefully assessed by other Asian governments that have sent troops to Iraq, including Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines.

Several Asian nations including India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have refused to send troops despite pressing demands by Washington to contribute forces.

Gunmen shot dead two South Korean electricity workers and wounded two others in Iraq today, but South Korea said it was too early to say whether the incident would affect Seoul’s decision to send more troops there.

Deputy foreign minister Lee Soo-hyuck told a hastily arranged briefing that details were still coming in on the incident near ousted President Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit.

A day earlier, seven Spanish intelligence agents, two Japanese diplomats and a Colombian civilian working for the US armed forces were killed.

In Spain, Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar remained defiant despite calls for him to recall the 1,300 Spanish troops helping to control south-central Iraq.

“We are where we have to be and we will not leave the victims of terrorism, here or there, to their fate,” said Aznar, who defied public opinion to back President George W. Bush.

“We will fulfil our commitments with loyalty and serenity,” Aznar told the nation in a televised address.

As the dead were flown home to Madrid, opposition socialists put aside their stiff objections to the war to join the outpouring of sorrow. Other opposition parties demanded the resignation of the defence minister and a troop withdrawal.

“Spain pays a high price,” the left-leaning newspaper El Pais said in an editorial. The El Mundo daily described the killings as: “Deaths which require explanations and reflection”.

Guerrillas opened fire with guns and rocket-propelled grenades on the Spanish convoy, and witnesses said a crowd then descended on the crippled vehicles, kicking the corpses and shouting slogans in support of fugitive dictator Saddam Hussein.

Today morning, youths were jumping on the wreckage and pulling apart one burned-out car.

“We’re happy about what happened,” said 20-year-old Abdul Qader, a student. “We don’t like the Americans or the Spanish.”

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