May 20, 2006

Italy to decide next week on Iraq withdrawal

ROME (Reuters) - The new Italian government will hold a
meeting next week to work out a withdrawal plan for Italy's
troops from Iraq, Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema said on

D'Alema, who is also a deputy prime minister, told
reporters during a visit to the southern city of Naples that
the meeting would likely be held on Wednesday.

The centre-left government of Prime Minister Romano Prodi
has said it wanted to bring home Italy's remaining 2,600 troops
from Iraq but has not yet given its own timeframe.

According to a plan already put in place by the previous
government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, 1,000 more
troops are due to return by the end of June and the rest by the
end of the year.

Some government officials have said the new administration
could decide to speed up the withdrawal but Prodi has promised
to do so in coordination with the Iraqi government and the
other foreign forces in Iraq.

D'Alema said the new government planned to convert Italy's
presence in Iraq to one that would be totally civilian in
nature and that would continue to help people there.

"We are not running away but we want to convert our
commitment into a civilian presence in the best tradition of
Italy," he said.

Prodi told the Senate earlier this week that the new
government felt the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was a "grave
mistake" and that his government wanted any part in what he
called an "occupation."