Thursday, January 19, 2006

Italy to Withdraw Troops From Iraq by Year's End

Italy will withdraw its nearly 3,000 troops from Iraq by the year's end, the defense minister saidtoday amid a fiercely fought general election campaign in a nation where the Iraq war is not popular.

"This is not a retreat, a word that is not part of our vocabulary," the minister, Antonio Martino, told a parliamentary commission. Rather, he called it a "dignified and just return."

It was the first formal announcement of Italy's plans in Iraq, though the center-right government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi signaled the move months ago to Italy's voters and to its allies in Washington. Mr. Berlusconi is trailing in the polls, and the decision would seem to ease some pressure on a particularly sensitive issue.
Polls show most Italians oppose the presence of their troops in Iraq, both in general opposition to the war and the fear that it makes Italy more vulnerable to a terror attack. The center-left opposition, led by former Prime Minister Romano Prodi, strongly opposes Italy's involvement in Iraq, though its leaders have recently said that, if elected, they would not endanger stability there by pulling out immediately.

Italy has the fourth-largest contingent of troops in Iraq. While the Italian presence is not large in numbers, the Bush administration, eager to show the effort in Iraq as a shared burden among allies, reacted with some anger last year when Mr. Berlusconi first broached withdrawing troops.

Today, however, the White House called Italy's announcement "an indication of progress" that Iraqi troops were increasingly able to take over.

Oh, of course it has to do with pushing up Berlusconi's poll numbers--how can Lil' Scottie deliver the WH spin with a straight face? The only real issue is how much it has to do with Italy's growing realization that when the Bush Assministration says "coalition," they really mean "sfruttamento," not "alleanza."


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