Italy to Pull out Troops from Iraq in September; Berlusconi Says Blair Informed of Rome's Decision
Byline: John Phillips, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
ROME - Italy will begin withdrawing its 3,300 troops from Iraq in September, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi announced yesterday, claiming Rome's pullout was discussed beforehand with British counterpart Tony Blair.
Mr. Berlusconi's decision comes amid national outrage over the shooting death by American troops of the Italian agent who had rescued a kidnapped Italian journalist.
"As early as September, we will start a progressive reduction of the number of our soldiers in Iraq," the Italian prime minister said in an interview with a popular television talk show.
Citing his discussion of the decision with Mr. Blair, the Italian leader hinted the British prime minister might be planning a similar move.
Britain recently increased its troop commitment to Iraq but the British defense ministry has found it increasingly difficult to meet its armed forces' peacekeeping commitments to work in different parts of the world.
"I spoke about this with Tony Blair and it is our countries' public opinion that expects this decision," Mr. Berlusconi said.
The announcement comes as a number of U.S. allies are pulling out of Iraq.
Bulgaria said yesterday it would probably withdraw its 450 troops from Iraq by the end of this year, a decision that follows the death of a Bulgarian soldier who was accidentally killed by U.S. forces.
The Dutch government, defying pressure from Washington, has announced it will pull its troops from Iraq by mid-April, while Poland and Ukraine plan to withdraw their forces this year.
In Washington, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said yesterday, "We certainly appreciate the contributions of the Italians. They have served and sacrificed alongside Iraqis and alongside other coalition forces."
Mr. Berlusconi made his announcement a short time after Italy's lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, voted 246-180 with eight abstentions, to extend the deployment of the 3,300 troops stationed in Iraq's Nasiriyah area.
The prime minister outraged opposition leaders by almost casually announcing the decision while being interviewed for Italy's best-known television talk show, "Door to Door," instead of telling parliament first. …