Spanish Intelligence Officer Assassinated in Baghdad
Insurgents assassinated a Spanish diplomat in Baghdad, José Antonio Bernal Gómez, the Information attaché at the Spanish embassy.. They waited until his night guard left at 7 am, and struck before the next guard shift arrived. One of them, who approached, was dressed in the garb of a Shiite cleric. Bernal grew suspicious and tried to flee. The four assailants shot him in the neck and killed him. Bernal was a sergeant in the Air Force and also appears to have served as a field officer for the Spanish National Center for Intelligence (CNI), according to the Diario de Cadiz. That is, his “information attaché” status was a cover for an intelligence posting, which the Spanish government has admitted.. It seems likely that the remnants of Baath intelligence knew of this role and targeted him for this reason. (Surely the CNI shares anything it learns in Iraq with the CIA).
The incident points once again to the survival of the Baath intelligence apparatus, probably now organized in covert cells (a reversion to the Iraqi party’s origins as a secret revolutionary organization in the 1950s. The Baath had attempted to assassinate then president Col. Abd al-Karim al-Qasim in 1961, and this is one of their old-time tools).
This assassination was clearly carefully planned. The Spanish have the third largest foreign contingent of troops in Iraq, 1300, and they lead several hundred other contingents from Central American countries. The guerrillas are betting that the rightwing government of Jose Maria Aznar can be forced to withdraw from Iraq by such attacks, or perhaps even destabilized so that the left gets in and withdraws. Spanish troop presence in Iraq is enormously unpopular in Spain. An unnamed source in the Diario de Cadiz article suggested that the conservative government would tough it out in Iraq, since such adventures are means by which the Spanish bureaucrats hope to recover the sort of power they used to enjoy under Franco.
The detail that one of the attackers was dressed as a Shiite clergyman should not be overlooked. The Baathists are obviously trying to provoke fighting between the Shiites and the Coalition. If Coalition troops go off manhandling lots of Shiite clergymen looking for the suspect in the assassination, they could further alienate them and even perhaps provoke some violence, especially in Sadr City. My advice is to make a good search of the area for the place the Baathist dropped the clerical robes before speeding off.