MADRID (AP) – Five months after the worst terror attack in Spain’s history, a parliamentary inquiry into the March 11 Madrid train bombings has little to show save a spreading discomfort among Spaniards about its members’ jockeying for political gain.

The inquiry – now recessed after a month of hearings – has drawn unflattering comparisons to the recently concluded U.S. 9/11 investigation, which was perceived here to have been far more comprehensive, forward-looking and bipartisan.

“The comparison with the Sept. 11 commission is lacerating,” the leading El Pais newspaper said.

Francisco Jose Alcaraz, president of the Association of Victims of Terrorism, called the proceedings “more political than anything” and said he learned “absolutely nothing.”

The 16 members – 11 supporters of the now-ruling Socialist Party, and five from the Popular Party in office the day of the bombings – will reconvene Sept. 7 to schedule final witnesses or move straight to Parliament to debate findings. It was unclear whether the panel planned to present a written report with security recommendations.

Regional parties allied to the Socialists clearly want to censure the Popular Party for its alleged mishandling of the crisis, which of course the conservatives hotly deny.

“It’s evident there was a lack of preparedness on the part of the Popular Party government before March 11,” Joan Herrera, spokesman for the United Left group, claimed Thursday.

Socialists tried to prove the Popular Party, notably former Interior Minister Angel Acebes, knew they were wrongly blaming the Basque separatist group ETA for the attack that killed 191 – even as police focused on Islamic militants, now held responsible. Sixteen suspects, most of them Moroccan, are now in jail, and authorities believe that the case presented to courts will be strong.

The commission investigated whether the attacks could have been prevented, reviewed police work and tried to determine whether the conservative government tried to manipulate public opinion ahead of March 14 general elections that the Popular Party won – a result that was seen to have been in part determined by the bombing.

For many Spaniards, the commission’s intent was mainly political all along.

“They want to crush the Popular Party,” said Antonio Pena Izquierdo who listened to proceedings daily on the radio in his taxi. Socialists “want to wash their hands” of any links between the March 11 bombing and their upset victory over the conservatives in elections three days later.

But polemics often trumped the facts during 100 hours of hearings in which testimony by 38 politicians, police, academics and Islamic experts was broadcast live on radio and cable TV, and made front page headlines.

“I believe you’re not telling the truth,” Alvaro Cuesta of the Socialists told Acebes, who insisted he truly believed “everything pointed to ETA” until the first arrests of Muslims, not Basques were made.

Both sides seem satisfied they presented a persuasive case to Spanish public opinion that their actions were apolitical.

Spaniards seem unimpressed.

A poll published last week by the state-run Center for Sociological Studies indicated 58 of every 100 rate the commission’s chances of clearing up what happened as either “poor” or “not at all.” The poll surveyed 2,487 adults and had a two percent margin of error.

“They really weren’t looking for what happened, the truth,” said Alcaraz of the victims association. “What they wanted was to blame the other.”

While the 9/11 commission suggested an intelligence failure, in Spain there appears to be a feeling that the Madrid attack might have been beyond reasonable expectation. And, there can be no guarantee any other attack definitely will be prevented.

“I think that they will accomplish nothing,” Miguel Angel Pollo Albacete, a 36-year-old mechanic. “Commissions of inquiry in this country don’t do much good.”

AP-ES-08-07-04 0245EDT

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