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Prodi to Propose Withdrawal of Troops from Iraq
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Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said yesterday his new government believed the US-led invasion of Iraq had been a "grave error" and that he would propose withdrawing Italy's troops in consultation with allies.


"We consider the war in Iraq and the occupation of the country a grave error," Prodi told the upper house of parliament as he outlined the program of his new government which was sworn in on Wednesday.


"It has not resolved, but complicated the situation of security," he said, prompting loud jeering from center-right senators.


Italy's center-left parties opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq three years ago, but the government of then Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi backed it and then sent in peacekeepers.


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 They are already due to be withdrawn in groups before the end of the year.


"It is the intention of this government to propose to parliament the return of our troops from Iraq," Prodi said, adding that his government intended to continue Italy's historically good relations with Washington.


Prodi did not give a date for a withdrawal, saying a "technical timeframe" would have to be agreed with all sides involved. Military experts say the allies would want to spread withdrawal out over several months.


Canada to extend Afghan mandate


The Canadian parliament narrowly backed a two-year extension of Canada's Afghan mission to February 2009 on Wednesday, despite serious misgivings by many opposition legislators.


The House of Commons voted 149-145 in favor of the motion by the minority Conservative government. It clears the way for Canada to seek a more prominent leadership role in trying to bring security to Afghanistan.


A relieved Prime Minister Stephen Harper confessed to reporters afterward to having been concerned that the vote might fail, although he had pledged to go ahead with a one-year extension of the mandate regardless of the outcome.


He also said some had voted no just to oppose his government. "Support for the mission is a lot stronger than the vote," he told reporters outside the House.


Canada has close to 2,300 troops near the southern Afghan city of Kandahar with a mandate to stay through February. But it said it had come under pressure from NATO partners to commit to a longer period.


(China Daily May 19, 2006)


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