Italy: Iraq pullout by end of year


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Thursday, January 19, 2006; Posted: 9:42 a.m. EST (14:42 GMT)

ROME, Italy (AP) -- Italy will withdraw its troops from Iraq by the end of the year, the defense minister said Thursday, giving the first official timeline for the end of the mission.

In an address to a parliamentary committee, Defense Minister Antonio Martino said the operation "will be considered concluded at the end of the year, having definitively completed its mission."
Italy has 2,600 troops based in the south of Iraq. The country's mission "will gradually faze out in the course of the year, and another type of mission, substantially a civilian one," will replace the troops, Martino said.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a strong U.S. ally, defied strong domestic opposition and sent about 3,000 troops to Iraq to help rebuild the country after the ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
"For the first phase (six months), the gradual transfer of tasks from (Italian) contingent to the Iraqi defense and security forces and the subsequent progressive reduction of the national military forces is foreseen," Martino told lawmakers.
Martino said that the last half of 2006 would witness "ever wider civilian cooperation and a corresponding progressive disengagement of the (Italian) military contingent."
The defense minister said the Italian forces would be reduced by 300 this month, and that there would be "a reduction of some 1,000 men" by the end of June.
"By June 2006, we will have achieved an overall reduction of nearly half of the contingent. At the beginning of the second half of the year, around 1,600 men will remain," Martino said.