Italy to Halve Force in Iraq

Thursday, January 19, 2006

ROME, Jan. 18 -- Italy will reduce by half its military force in Iraq by May as part of its phased withdrawal from the country, Defense Minister Antonio Martino was quoted as saying Wednesday.

"As security conditions improve, our military commitment is reduced. We had 3,200 troops in August last year, 2,900 in September, and in January they are 2,600," Martino was quoted by the women's magazine Diva e Donna as saying in an interview.

"We will continue like this throughout 2006, and I expect that in May the contingent will be halved," he said.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has said that all Italian troops will be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of 2006 in coordination with the Iraqi government.

Martino is due to present the phased withdrawal plan to Parliament on Thursday.

Italy, with the fourth-largest foreign military contingent in Iraq, has a general election scheduled for April. The war, which is unpopular among the public, is likely to be a campaign issue. All opposition parties opposed the deployment.

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