Date registered: Aug 2002
Vehicle: '85 2.3-16 '99 C280 '11 GLK350
Location: Scottsdale, Arizona, USA
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Tuesday March 15, 2005 11:31 PM
ROME (AP) - Premier Silvio Berlusconi, facing rising opposition to the war in Iraq and public outcry over the deadly U.S. shooting of an Italian agent in Baghdad, announced Tuesday that Italy will start withdrawing its 3,000 troops from Iraq beginning in September.
While taping a state TV talk show to air later Tuesday, Berlusconi said, ``In September we will begin a gradual reduction of the number of our soldiers in Iraq.''
The Apcom news agency quoted the premier as saying: ``I've spoken about it with (British Prime Minister) Tony Blair. We need to construct a precise exit strategy, public opinion expects this and we'll discuss this soon.''
As of now, the reduction in the Italian contingent will start ``within 2005 and in agreement with the allies,'' Apcom also quoted Berlusconi as saying.
In Washington, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, ``We certainly appreciate the contributions of the Italians. They have served and sacrificed alongside Iraqis and alongside other coalition forces.''
Italian government officials had already indicated that Rome would consider withdrawing troops if Iraq could handle its own security. Last fall, Italy's defense minister said coalition troops in Iraq could be gradually cut after Iraq's elections in January, but he did not cite a timetable.
``Obviously, every country will make their own decisions about what they can continue to contribute or contribute in the future when it comes to helping the Iraqi people,'' McClellan said.
Opposition to the war and to Italy's involvement in Iraq is strong here. Berlusconi - a strong ally of President Bush - 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 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.''
In an unrelated story:
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.