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Italy Considering Iraq Exit Strategy

Italy's defence minister has said the country is considering a partial withdrawal of its troops from Iraq. Meanwhile, the US has requested more help from British troops already stationed in Iraq.

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Italy has spoken for the first time of bringing some troops home

Italy is the third largest contributor of troops in Iraq following the United States and Britain. But Italian Defence Minister Antonio Martino has said the government is beginning to think of an exit strategy for its troops, which currently number around 3,000. He was careful to emphasize, however, that the withdrawal would not be taking place anytime soon.

"It would be hard to explain or justify an immediate withdrawal," Martino said. "But the situation there has developed in the direction we expected. There is an Iraqi government. After the elections in January, that government will have full legitimacy. We've been helping to train the Iraqi military so that the Iraqis will eventually be in a position where they can independently counter the unrest in their country."

The majority of Italians were against the war from the outset, and still oppose their country's involvement. Italy has lost soldiers, police officers, and journalists in Iraq, and several civilians have been taken hostage.

Wieder in Freiheit

The Italian government worked hard to secure the release of Simona Pari and Simona Torretta

Cases such as the recent hostage-taking of the two peace activists Simona Pari and Simona Torretta (photo) may foster feelings of solidarity with the victims and Italian soldiers, temporarily quashing criticism of the government. But it's never long before the opposition resumes its calls for the immediate withdrawal of troops from the war-wasted country.

Many Italians, are under the impression that the "coalition of the willing" appears to be weakening. The Italian media has jumped on news that the Polish government is also planning its exit strategy from Iraq.

Britain mulling US request

Meanwhile, the British government is considering a US request for more troop assistance in Iraq. Should Britain comply, British troops could be deployed in potentially more dangerous areas -- a move that is re-igniting public anger towards Prime Minister Tony Blair's support for the war.

Until now, some 8,000 British troops have operated in the relatively quiet Basra area of southern Iraq. Analysts say up to 650 British troops may be moved north in response to the US request, to support US units battling insurgents in the rebel-held city of Fallujah.

Charles Kennedy, leader of Britain's Liberal Democratic party and a fierce war opponent, has warned Britain against "allowing itself to be sucked further into the mire in Iraq." He said Britain should be planning its exit strategy from Iraq.

Anti-Kriegs-Demonstration in London

Anti-war protesters during a demonstration over Westminster Bridge, London, Sunday October 17, 2004. The protest saw huge crowds take to the streets.

On Sunday, thousands of anti-war protesters marched through London to demand UK troops withdraw from Iraq altogether.

Australia rejects troop request

Also on Monday, Australia rejected a long-standing informal request from the United Nations to send more troops to Iraq to protect UN staff members before the planned elections in January.

A spokesman from Australia's Foreign Ministry said the country, which has 920 troops stationed in and around Iraq, was responding to the UN request by providing equipment and training to a Fijian military deployment to Iraq.

"We're supporting the UN presence in Iraq by providing equipment and training for the Fijian contingent," the spokesman said. "We're not contributing any more forces ourselves." Australian Prime Minister John Howard has said the country's troops will stay in Iraq as long as necessary, but has also repeatedly said that there would be no significant increase in the number of troops.

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