Global Policy Forum

Italian Leader Calls


By Fred Barbash

Washington Post
May 18, 2006

Another US ally in the war in Iraq distanced itself from the US- led effort today when Italy's new prime minister, Romano Prodi, called the invasion and occupation a "grave error" and said he would propose a withdrawal of Italian troops.

"We consider the war in Iraq and the occupation of the country a grave error," Prodi told the upper house of Parliament, wire services reported. "It has not resolved, but complicated the situation of security." Italy has about 3,000 troops in Iraq in peacekeeping roles. They are already due to be withdrawn in groups before the end of the year. Prodi did not set forth a timetable for withdrawal and it was unclear whether he would speed up the departure.

"It is the intention of this government to propose to Parliament the return of our troops from Iraq," Prodi said. Prodi's coalition narrowly defeated that of then-Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in an election last month. Berlusconi had been among President Bush's most ardent European boosters. Bush's best friends from the start of the Iraq war in 2003 are dropping off one after the other. The party of Spain's prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar, was ousted in 2004 by voters upset in part by troop deployments in Iraq. The prime minister of Portugal, who stood next to Bush days before the invasion, resigned months later for another job.

The leaders of Poland and Ukraine, which had sizable units in Iraq, were both replaced in elections by successors who pulled out some or all troops. Japan's prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, often cited by Bush in stump speeches as one of his best friends abroad, plans to step down in September. And even British Prime Minister Tony Blair, mired in Iraq-related controversies, appears poised to resign next year.

Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic originally had forces in Iraq but withdrew them. Twenty six countries, including Australia, South Korea, Japan and Britain, remain active in the multi-national force, mostly in relatively small contingents. Berlusconi had dispatched 3,000 troops to Iraq. The decision was unpopular, but Berlusconi largely removed Iraq as an issue in the election by pledging to pull the troops out by year's end. Prodi has previously said he would withdraw them as soon as possible.

Prodi leads the Union coalition, an agglomeration of disparate forces that include a Roman Catholic group, Socialists, moderate Christian Democrats, environmentalists and communists. There was no immediate reaction from the White House.

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