Italy to Withdraw Troops from Iraq
By Gavin Cordon, PA Whitehall Editor
Prime Minister Tony Blair�s hopes of restoring
stability in Iraq were dealt a fresh blow tonight
after Italy announced plans to start withdrawing its
Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi said in Rome that he
would begin a �progressive reduction� of the
3,000-strong Italian contingent from September.
The announcement is a setback for Mr Blair and US
President George Bush as the Italian government was
one of the strongest supporters of the American-led
However public opposition in Italy has intensified
following the shooting of secret service agent Nicola
Calipari who died when US troops mistakenly opened
fire on his vehicle as he was escorting a hostage to
Mr Berlusconi, who said that he had discussed the
withdrawal with Mr Blair, acknowledged that public
opinion had played a part in the decision.
�I�ve spoken about it with Tony Blair and it�s the
public opinion of our countries that expects this
decision,� he said during the recording of a TV talk
There was no immediate response tonight from either
Downing Street or the Foreign Office.
However Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Sir
Menzies Campbell said that it seemed clear that Italy
had drawn up its own �exit strategy� from Iraq and
that Britain should follow suit.
�It is time the UK showed a similar resolve. Britain�s
objective should be to achieve the withdrawal of
British forces by the expiry date of the UN mandate
which ends in December 2005,� he said.
It was not immediately clear from Mr Berlusconi�s
comments how far the withdrawal would go.
Mr Blair and Mr Bush will draw some comfort from his
remark that the pull-out would still �depend on the
capability of the Iraqi government to give itself
structures for acceptable security�.
America�s most senior military officer today warned
that despite progress in stabilising Iraq, much more
needed to before the coalition could start handing
over responsibility for security to Iraqi forces.
�There�s a long way to go,� the Chairman of the Joint
Chief�s of Staff, General Richard Myers, told
reporters during visit to Baghdad.