Opinion

The 8 of Iraq: Spain's spies, and with great honour

photo_camera PHOTO/Ministere des Armées - El 29 de noviembre mes se cumplirá el XIX aniversario del asesinato de los ocho agentes del Centro Nacional de Inteligencia que perdieron la vida en Irak. Quedan cosas por hacer en su honor

On Monday, October 10, Movistar Plus+ premieres on demand the four-episode documentary series "The 8 of Iraq". It narrates the circumstances surrounding the assassination almost 19 years ago of eight Spanish secret agents from the National Intelligence Centre (CNI) stationed in Iraq as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Each 50-minute episode recreates the tragedy of eight Spanish spies who risked their lives on a daily basis in a tremendously hostile environment with footage, testimonies from their bosses and colleagues, and an analysis by national and foreign experts. In the region of Mesopotamia, a very conflictive area for the forces of the multinational military coalition led by the United States and deployed in Iraq since 2003.   

All aged between 36 and 49, they were on the lookout for information of interest, which they turned into intelligence reports. The main purpose of their daily work was to provide operational security for the Spanish troops sent to the area by the government of President Jos√© Mar√≠a Aznar, with the intention of preventing them from being the target of attacks, ambushes, shootings and deception by Iraqi resistance forces.  

PHOTO/El Espa√Īol - Todos de entre 36 y 49 a√Īos, los agentes secretos espa√Īoles horas antes de que fueran objeto de una emboscada y masacrados a tiros por terroristas iraqu√≠es. Solo uno de ellos logr√≥ escapar, con heridas.

But it was they who were betrayed. Seven of the eight officers were shot dead on Saturday afternoon, 29 November 2003, in an ambush near the town of Latifiya, some 30 kilometres from Baghdad.  They were travelling in two unarmoured all-terrain vehicles - a white Nissan Patrol and a blue Chevrolet Tahoe - on a road linking the Iraqi capital with Diwaniya, the latter city where the headquarters of the Spanish forces were located.  

Surrounded and harassed from all sides by heavy rifle and possibly RPG-7 rocket fire, those who were not killed immediately faced their attackers with their pistols and a single submachine gun. Only one managed to escape with wounds and make it to safety, Warrant Officer Jos√© Manuel S√°nchez Riera. The other seven perished in unequal combat. 

PHOTO/EFE-ChemaMoya - La c√ļpula de Defensa en julio de 2018 posa en la sede del Centro Nacional de Inteligencia en Madrid con su secretario de Estado director, el general de Ej√©rcito F√©lix Sanz Rold√°n, en el centro
The missing public and official recognition

The documentary series also describes how two months earlier another Spanish agent was killed in Iraq, Air Force 1st Sergeant Jos√© Antonio Bernal. On the morning of 9 October he was accosted outside his home in Baghdad and although he managed to escape the trap, he was pursued, shot and killed at point-blank range a few metres after he had fled. All the fallen were posthumously awarded the Military Merit Medal with red distinction by the government of President Jos√© Luis Rodr√≠guez Zapatero, which certifies that they died in combat action. 

All of the above has been compiled with an enormous degree of detail, the result of many hours of conversations and interviews with CNI agents and relatives of the fallen, in the book based on real events, "Destrucci√≥n masiva. Nuestro hombre en Bagdad" -Roca Editorial, 2020- by the investigative journalist Fernando Rueda, author of numerous books on the CNI and considered to be Spain's leading specialist on espionage.  

Next month will mark the 19th anniversary of the assassination of the eight CNI agents. Most probably, at the headquarters of the Intelligence Service on the outskirts of Madrid, its Secretary of State Director, Esperanza Casteleiro, will organise a ceremony in front of the monument erected in memory of all of them, to which their immediate families will be invited. That is all very well. But something else of great importance is missing. Perhaps it can be realised on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the tragic event or even earlier. 

PHOTO/Ministere des Arm√©es - El entonces primer ministro de Francia, Jean Castex, la titular de Defensa, Florence Parly y el director general de la Seguridad Exterior, Bernard √Čmi√©, rinden homenaje en enero a los ca√≠dos de sus servicios secretos en acto de servicio

The high authorities of the Ministry of Defence to which the CNI is attached should reflect on the advisability of carrying out a public and official recognition of the eight spies - yes spies, and very honourably so - who, with a few individual weapons, insufficient cover and totally scarce means, paid with their lives for the maelstrom of Iraq in 2003. The documentary series may provide an opportunity for this. 

There is an old and endearing Spanish saying that "it is good to be grateful". From my point of view, if Movistar Plus+ has brought the lamentable and painful story of the fallen Spanish secret agents in Iraq out of oblivion, it is now up to the Spanish state, for which the eight spies gave their lives.

PHOTO/EMAD - En la Plaza de la Lealtad de Madrid se encuentra la llama votiva que inmortaliza a los h√©roes del Dos de Mayo y a los que dieron su vida por Espa√Īa en cualquier momento de nuestra historia
What is missing

In France, on 17 January this year, a ceremony took place on the grand stage of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris in the middle of the night to pay tribute to the French secret service fallen in the line of duty.

The Flame of Remembrance was rekindled in a ceremony presided over by the then Prime Minister, Jean Castex, in the presence of the Minister of Defence, Florence Parly, and the Director General of External Security, Ambassador Bernard √Čmi√©, together with the President of the National Assembly and other senior civilian and military figures of the Republic and numerous relatives and spies, the latter with their faces hidden, as can be seen in the photographs.

Foto6Los8DeIrakFrCreMinistereDesArmes

In Spain, the Plaza de la Lealtad in Madrid has a votive flame immortalising the heroes of the Dos de Mayo and all those who gave their lives for Spain at any time in our history. They expect the nation's high authorities to hold a solemn and public ceremony of homage to the eight fallen in Iraq. Of course, with the presence of current spies and CNI veterans who, with their faces covered for obvious reasons, want to attend. But there may be other similar or even better alternatives.

In Zamora, the city of two of those killed - Infantry Major Jos√© Carlos Rodr√≠guez P√©rez and Infantry Brigadier Alfonso Vega Calvo - the City Council organised a massive tribute in the Plaza de la Constituci√≥n in 2015, and there is already a commemorative plaque to remember them. 

Foto7Los8DeIrakFrCreMinistereDesArmees

Postscript: these are the six soldiers who complete the list of the eight killed in Iraq: Alberto Mart√≠nez Gonz√°lez, Cavalry commander, head of the Spanish secret services in Iraq. Born in Pravia (Asturias), married with one son; Carlos Bar√≥ Ollero, Infantry Commander. Born in Madrid, with one son; Jos√© Merino Olivera, Infantry commander, from Madrid, married with two children; Jos√© Lucas Egea, Cavalry brigade, from Madrid, married; Luis Ignacio Zan√≥n Tarazona, 1st sergeant in the Air Force, from Cuart de Poblet (Valencia), married with two children. May they rest in peace.