Thursday, March 17, 2005


ROME, Italy (AP) -- Premier Silvio Berlusconi came under fire Thursday, a day after he clarified his announcement that Italian troops could pull out of Iraq in September, saying the possible date was no more than a "hope."

Berlusconi said earlier this week that Italy could start gradually pulling out its 3,000-strong contingent in Iraq starting in September, if security conditions allowed. He specified Wednesday that he wasn't setting a fixed date but just expressing a hope, and insisted his alliance with the United States remained solid.

"In a serious country, heads of government cannot lend themselves to ambiguous announcements on issues that touch the life and death of so many human beings," leading analyst Franco Venturini wrote in Thursday's edition of the newspaper Corriere della Sera. "From these self-serving calculations, a country's foreign policy can only come out damaged in its current and future credibility," he said.

Some analysts have said that Berlusconi's remarks were made with an eye on key regional elections at the beginning of April, as well as on general elections scheduled for next year.Public opinion in Italy is strongly against the war and Italy's involvement, and the premier has been under increasing pressure to pull out the troops since the March 4 killing in Baghdad of an Italian intelligence agent who was escorting a recently released hostage to freedom. The agent was killed by U.S. troops, who mistakenly opened fire on his vehicle.

The opposition demanded that Berlusconi come to parliament to better explain Italy's position. "There's total confusion and Berlusconi is just doing propaganda," center-left leader Piero Fassino was quoted as saying in the daily La Repubblica on Thursday. "But all this is unworthy of a civilized country."

Berlusconi's first announcement on a possible conditional date came Tuesday evening during Italy's most popular political talk show and surprised many -- even some of his close political allies -- according to Italian media.

CNN.com - Berlusconi under fire over Iraq - Mar 17, 2005


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