Italy may begin withdrawing Iraq troops next year, says minister
ROME: Italy could begin withdrawing its troops from Iraq next year, Defence Minister Antonio Martino was quoted as saying by newspapers on Sunday.
“An immediate withdrawal will be inexplicable. But a first step could be a reduction in our contingent during 2005,” the Corriere de la Sera quotes Martino as saying on Saturday on the sidelines of an Italian television programme.
The defence minister is the first senior Italian official to suggest a rough time-scale on disengaging Rome’s 3,000-strong contingent. He said any withdrawal or reduction in the Italian contingent was conditional on democracy returning to Iraq in the form of “ fully legitimate government” following January elections.
Martino said the new Iraqi government would soon be able to count on “more than 100,000 men between the police force and soldiers” trained an equipped by NATO forces.
“If the local soldiers and police are operational, we have no reason to stay,” the left-leaning La Repubblica quoted Martino as saying. Martino’s comments came a day after Polish Prime Minister Marek Belka promised his parliament to start pulling out Warsaw’s 2,500 troops next year.
“I assure you that we will not stay an hour longer in Iraq than is needed,” Belka said, though he declined to give a firm timetable.
Italy is the third-biggest contributor to US-led coalition forces in Iraq, deploying its forces in southern Iraq only after the United States and Britain had completed the military overthrow of the regime of Saddam Hussein. afp