Italy's Prodi Calls
Iraq Occupation a 'Grave Error'
FRED BARBASH / Washington Post 18may2006
Another U.S. ally in the war in Iraq distanced itself from the U.S.- led effort today when Italy's new prime minister, Romano Prodi, called the U.S.-led 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," he said.
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 They are already due to be withdrawn in groups before the end of the year.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 or not 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 Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in an election last month. Berlusconi had been among President Bush's most ardent Europoean 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.
source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/18/AR2006051800451_pf.html 18may2006
Prodi condemns Iraq war as 'grave mistake'
JAMES STURKE and agencies / The Guardian (UK) 18may2006
The incoming Italian prime minister, Romano Prodi, today describe the US-led invasion of Iraq as a "grave mistake" that had encouraged global terrorism. Mr Prodi, who narrowly won last month's general election, said he would consult with US-led forces in Iraq over Italian troop withdrawal.
"We consider the war and occupation in Iraq a grave error that hasn't solved - but has complicated - the problem of security," he said in his first address to the Senate since becoming prime minister.
"Terrorism has found a new base and new excuses for internal and external terrorist action."
Mr Prodi said his government would participate in anti-terror operations if they were sanctioned by international organisations such as the UN.
"We are convinced participants in the war against terrorism, even militarily, when it is legitimised by an international organisation to which we belong," he added.
Mr Prodi did not give a precise timeline for the withdrawal of Italian troops, saying only that it would happen after consultation with the Iraqi authorities.
"It is the intention of this government to propose to parliament the return of our troops from Iraq," he said.
The incoming prime minister said he intended to continue Italy's historically good relations with Washington. However, his views on the invasion and occupation of Iraq will put him on a collision course with both the White House and Downing Street.
Tony Blair has repeatedly denied that the London bombings in July last year were linked to the British involvement in Iraq.
Mr Prodi's coalition won April's election by the smallest margin in modern Italian political history. During the campaign, he promised to withdraw the Italian troops that his conservative rival, Silvio Berlusconi, had sent to Iraq.
Mr Berlusconi, elected in 2001, was the longest-serving leader of his country since the second world war.
He was a staunch supporter of the Iraq conflict despite its huge unpopularity in Italy - where thousands have marched against it - and faced regular calls to withdraw the 3,000 Italian troops.
Demands for withdrawal grew after an Italian secret service agent, Nicola Calipari, was killed by US soldiers minutes after rescuing a journalist being held hostage last March.
Mr Prodi, then the opposition leader, said it was time to discuss the end of Italy's mission in Iraq, and Mr Berlusconi - in an apparent attempt to shore up domestic support - said troops would be withdrawn from Iraq by last September.
However, he backtracked on that commitment after receiving a call from the US president, George Bush.
source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,,1778041,00.html 18may2006
D'ALEMA: A NEW TRANSATLANTIC APPROACH
Rome - Italy's new foreign minister, Massimo D'Alema, has already proven his trans-Atlantic credentials by supporting US foreign policy even if it means being unpopular at home, according to former US deputy assistant secretary of state, Ronald D. Asmus. "The war in Kosovo - with US aircraft flying bombing sorties out of Italian bases - was a very formative experience for D'Alema", commented Asmus, who was serving in the Clinton administration at the time. "Coming in as a former Communist leader, he proved himself to be an Atlanticist - from a US perspective - though it was tough in terms of public opinion" he added.
Both new prime minister Romano Prodi and D'Alema want a better trans-Atlantic relationship, he noted, but with two and a half years left of the second Bush administration they are unlikely to invest much energy in their ties with the White House.
"In Europe I think the [Italian] centre-left government is going to allign itself with (German chancellor Angela) Merkel," said Asmus, who is currently posted to the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Berlin. "In this sense D'Alema is looking at substance not at political labels and at regaining ground especially given the current paralysis in France" he added.
Asmus also predicts a subtle realignment in Italy's policy in the Middle East with D'Alema in the foreign minister's chair. "Historically the Italian Left leaned towards the Palestinian side of isuse, while under Berlusconi this clearly shifted towards Israel with the former defence minister speaking about inviting Israel to join NATO.
"Regarding Israel I think we are going to see an adjustment; it will not be as pro-Israel as it was under Berlusconi but will probably be more pro Israeli than one might expect" Asmus predicted.
The new governing coalition, which has only a two-seat majority in the Senate, includes centrist-Catholics, Communists and liberal anti-Vatican parties with wide divergences of views. However Asmus believes that D'Alema, is well equipped to deal with the pressure.
"Who better than a former Communist to handle at keep at bay the more hard-line left wing elements?" he queried.
Accordign to the seasoned diplomat, both Washington and Rome are keen that Iraq, until now a major source of tension between the two, does not dominate their relationship. But he warns of the risks that lie ahead in Afghanistan, and the risks that more Italian casualties may mean more public pressure to end Italy's involvement in the mission.
"That is the number one NATO mission, with all the rights mandates and legitimacy, and as alliance troops move into more dangerous southern areas we are heading towards a rough summer"
source: http://www.adnki.com/index_2Level_English.php?cat=Politics&loid=8.0.298890248&par=0 18may2006