Spain's defense minister, Jose Bono, says Spanish troops have begun the process of withdrawing from Iraq and will be home in as soon as six weeks.
Mr. Bono made the announcement after the new Spanish cabinet's first meeting Monday. But he said Spain will never "turn its back" on the United Nations or the Spanish people, who he said never accepted the presence of Spanish troops in Iraq.
Earlier, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero telephoned President Bush to discuss his decision to pull out of Iraq now instead of waiting until June.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters that Mr. Bush said he regrets the abrupt withdrawal, but did not try to change the prime minister's mind.
Mr. McClellan said the president urged that the withdrawal take place in a coordinated manner and avoid actions that could give what he called "false comfort to terrorists or enemies of freedom in Iraq."
European Commission President Romano Prodi praised Spain's decision, saying it narrows the gap within the European Union over the war in Iraq.
But several major U-S allies have reaffirmed their commitment to stay in Iraq, including Britain, Portugal, Japan, and South Korea.
Thirteen-hundred Spanish troops are stationed in south-central Iraq, part of Polish-commanded international force.
Spain's new foreign minister, Miguel Moratinos, told Spanish radio he believes Madrid and Washington will maintain close ties, despite the troop withdrawal. He meets in Washington Wednesday with Secretary of State Colin Powell.