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Italy: Iraq troop pullout to start in September

Italy plans to begin pulling out troops from Iraq in September, Premier Silvio Berlusconi said Friday, but he left room for a change of plans.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Italy plans to begin withdrawing some of its troops from Iraq in September, Premier Silvio Berlusconi said Friday.

Berlusconi, who was a strong supporter of President Bush on Iraq, sent 3,000 troops to the country after the ouster of Saddam Hussein to help rebuild the country. He had previously indicated he hoped a pullout could begin in September.

“We will begin withdrawing 300 men in the month of September,” Berlusconi said at the G-8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland. But he added the decision would depend on security conditions on the ground and could change.

In recent months, Italian officials have gone back and forth on when a withdrawal might begin. Berlusconi said September was a possibility, but Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini then talked of early 2006.

Relations between Washington and Rome have been strained in recent months — first by the killing of an Italian agent by American soldiers in Iraq and then arrest warrants issued by an Italian court accusing 13 purported CIA operatives of kidnapping a militant Egyptian cleric from Italy and sending him to Egypt, where he was reportedly tortured.

Official: Italy could be next terror target
Reforms Minister Roberto Calderoli of the right-wing Northern League party said Friday the time had come for the United Nations to begin discussing “the progressive withdrawal of troops, beginning with our contingent, perhaps by September.”

“It’s evident that after New York, Madrid and London, Italy represents the most probable next objective of the terrorists,” he said. “The time has come to begin to think also about our house, and to use the same resources currently committed in Iraq to prevent and combat possible attacks on our territory.”

A group calling itself “The Secret Organization of al-Qaida in Europe” — which claimed responsibility for Thursday’s bombings in London — said the attacks were a punishment for British involvement in the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.