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[casi] Spanish troops in Iraq to wear Christian badge

By Vicky Short
12 August 2003

On first hearing that the new contingent of Spanish troops being sent to
Iraq are wearing the Cruz de Santiago de Compostela (Cross of St. James of
Compostela) on their arm badge, one could be forgiven for thinking the
authorities in Spain had lost their minds. On reflection, however, and in
the context of the prevailing world political atmosphere, more sinister
conclusions can be drawn from this action.

The triangular top and arrow-like arms of the cross have become a symbol of
the liquidation of the Muslims who were finally driven out of Spain after
800 years of fighting by the reconquest in 1492. This was also the start of
the period of colonialist expansion by Spain’s Catholic monarchy.

During the battle of Clavijo, the legend goes, the Apostle St. James
appeared in the sky on a white horse brandishing a sword with which he
killed every Muslim in his path. St. James became the symbol of the fight
for the reconquest of Spain and has since been known as “Santiago Matamoros”
(St. James the Moor killer). Described in the Scripture as one of the “sons
of thunder,” the Apostle is credited with converting the Iberian peninsula
to Christianity.

The soldiers are the first batch of 1,300 combat troops that the Spanish
government is sending to Iraq to join the international occupation force
patrolling the Al Qadisija and An Najaf areas, whose population is
overwhelmingly Shiite. They are joining a force of 900 Spanish soldiers
already in Iraq and which, due to anti-war feeling in Spain, were supposedly
sent strictly for humanitarian purposes. The 2,000-strong brigade of which
they will form part, made up of Spanish and Latin American soldiers, will
wear the cross on the arm of their uniforms.

Najaf is considered one of the holiest cities in Iraq and a pilgrimage
centre for the world’s Shiite faithful. Two weeks ago, 10,000 Shiites
demonstrated against the American occupation. Additionally, Najaf is the
tomb of the Imam Ali, cousin and son-in-law of the prophet Mahomet. The city
contains a world-renowned school for the understanding of the Koran and
houses the biggest cemetery of Muslims in the Near East.

The new army badge was specially designed for the Iraq mission by the
Ministry of Defence. It consists of two Hercules columns capped with the
existing and imperial crowns. A ribbon is threaded round the columns bearing
the unit’s name, “Plus Ultra”, which also has connections with the imperial
reign. The badge is completed with the initials IF (Iraqi Freedom)—the
Pentagon’s name for the Iraqi invasion—engraved in gold at the top. The
Ministry has named the new mission IF (India Foxtrot). The red Cross of St.
James of Compostela looms large in the middle of the badge, between the two

A spokesman from the military explained that the cross had long featured
somewhere on the uniforms of the Spanish Army, and that the Hercules columns
are a symbol to mark the fact that the brigade will contain soldiers from
the other side of the Atlantic.

General Manuel Angel Cumbreño said that he hoped the Spanish soldiers sent
to Iraq “are not seen as an army of occupation, because we are going to help
and support the Iraqis in everything we can.”

The minister of defence, Federico Trillo-Figueroa, also stated in Congress
that “the religious fervour of the Shiites has found a freedom of expression
that it did not have before [the war] and that the attitude of our Armed
Forces, respectful, sensitive to their beliefs and preoccupations, and
without doubt, tolerant, will facilitate the contact with the population.”

The incorporation of the cross, however, gives the lie to such claims.

The centre-right newspaper El Mundo attacked the new design, arguing that
careful consideration must be given to the risks of sending a Spanish force
to the country, yet the latest deployment had been taken on the sole say-so
of the ruling Popular Party (PP) government.

The newspaper’s editorial declared: “To put the Cross of St. James of
Compostela on the uniforms of Spanish soldiers demonstrates an absolute
ignorance of the psychology of the society in which they will have to carry
out their mission.” And it added, “It would be difficult to come up with any
symbol more offensive to the Shiite population than this cross.”

The Cross of St. James of Compostela was not included in the first design of
the badge originally presented to the ministry by the defence secretary,
Fernando Diez Moreno.

It is not clear who in the ministry took the decision to include the cross
in the badge. However, it is well known that right-wing extremists and
fascist forces within the establishment feel emboldened by President George
W. Bush’s global “war on terror” and the now constant appeals to patriotism.

Trillo-Figueroa is said to be a supernumerary member of the Prelature of the
Holy Cross and Opus Dei—commonly known as “Opus Dei” (Latin for “Work of
 God”). Founded in 1928, Opus Dei is an ultra-right-wing movement that
recruited many of its members from Spain’s wealthy and powerful families. It
flourished under General Franco’s rule and provided ministers to his
government. Its clannishness and secrecy has won it the name of “Holy

Its founder Jose Maria Escriva de Balaguer died in 1975, was beatified by
the Pope in 1992 and was controversially made a saint in 2002, in
record-breaking time.

Jesus Ynfante, author of the critical Founding Saint of Opus Dei, says that
Escriva was an unashamed fascist. “He had Madrid under his control, starting
with the dictator. Under Franco the clerical fascism of Opus Dei won out
over the true fascism of the Falange [political party],” he wrote. Escriva
has also been quoted as saying that Hitler would save Christianity from

The group’s annual income has been estimated at around £120 million—enough
to fund hundreds of schools and universities and help make it one of the
fastest growing movements within the Catholic church. It is present in 80
countries. The group is estimated to have up to 77,000 members.

El Mundo recently named a raft of senior officials in the defence, justice
and interior ministries who belong to the order, which encourages its
followers to seek positions of power. “Defence, law and order and the
judiciary are in the hands of Opus,” said Juan Carlos Rodriguez, the
socialist president of Extremadura region’s government.

With the insertion of the cross onto its soldiers’ uniforms, the government
is making clear that the invasion and occupation of Iraq are but the first
step towards a renewed campaign of colonial conquest by the advanced
capitalist countries.

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