Tuesday, March 15, 2005

USATODAY.com - Italy will begin Iraq troop withdrawal in September

ROME (AP) — Premier Silvio Berlusconi said Tuesday that Italy will start withdrawing its 3,000 troops in Iraq in September, Italian news agencies reported.

"Already in September we will begin a progressive reduction of the number of our soldiers in Iraq," Berlusconi was quoted as saying during a taping of a state TV talk show.

Withdrawing Italian troops "will depend on the capability of the Iraqi government to give itself structures for acceptable security," the ANSA news agency quoted Berlusconi as saying. "I've spoken about it with (British Prime Minister) Tony Blair, and it's the public opinion of our countries that expects this decision."

Italian government officials already indicated that if Iraq can handle its own security, Italy would consider withdrawing. The Italian contingent is the fourth-largest in the coalition.

In Washington, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, "We certainly appreciate the contributions of the Italians."

Opposition to the war and to Italy's involvement in Iraq is strong here. Berlusconi faced renewed pressure to pull troops out after the March 4 killing in Baghdad of an Italian intelligence agent, Nicola Calipari, as he escorted a recently released hostage to freedom.

Calipari was killed by U.S. troops, who mistakenly opened fire on his vehicle as it headed to the Baghdad's airport with freed hostage Giuliana Sgrena.

The government made it clear it was not considering a pullout following the agent's death.

When asked whether the shooting played a role in Berlusconi's decision, McClellan said, "I'm not sure I'd make a connection there. I haven't heard any comment to that effect from Italian officials."

On Tuesday, the Italian contingent suffered its 21st casualty in Iraq when a soldier accidentally shot himself in the head during target practice, officials said.

In a separate development, Italy's lower house of parliament approved the extension of financing for troops in Iraq through June. The Senate already voted to extend the mission last month.

All righty then.


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