March 15 (Bloomberg) — Italy will begin withdrawing some of its soldiers from Iraq this year, as many as nine months before voters must go to the polls in national elections.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said sometime after September Italy would begin a “progressive reduction” of its 3,000 soldiers, the fourth-biggest contingent in Iraq after the U.S., U.K. and South Korea.
“We will start reducing our troops by the end of the year in agreement with our allies and the Iraqis,” he said in Rome late today during the taping of “Porta a Porta,” an Italian television program on the state-owned RAI network.
Berlusconi, 68, must call elections by the end of June 2006, and his decision to send troops to support the U.S.-led war in Iraq was opposed by the majority of Italians, public opinion polls showed. The shooting on March 4 of an Italian intelligence officer and a freed hostage by U.S. troops in Baghdad has renewed calls to bring the forces home.