Friday, February 23, 2007

Italy In Political Turmoil Over Support Of U.S.

The resignation of Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi underscores the difficulty in Europe of governments trying to support US foreign policy on terror while at the same time pleasing their own publics.

Mr. Prodi, who has been in office less than a year, stepped down Wednesday after he was unable to convince his parliament of the "profound difference" between sending Italian troops to Afghanistan and sending them to Iraq. Italy currently deploys 1,950 troops in Afghanistan as part of a NATO mission of some 30,000 soldiers from European states.

The Prodi drama came hours after Britain and Denmark announced the start of troop withdrawals from Iraq – a blow to the White House as it deploys an additional 21,000 soldiers to stabilize Baghdad. In a further departure from perfect alignment with US policy in the Middle East, British prime minister Tony Blair also said this week that he will consider dealing with the Palestinian group Hamas as part of a new "national unity" government in the occupied territories.

European capitals are wavering over how to deal with a US administration in its final two years, one saddled with multiple inconclusive wars and battles against terror. ...

The center-left Prodi government in Rome was always fragile, a nine-party coalition whose main agreement was its dislike of the previous center-right government of Silvio Berlusconi. Prodi decided to resign, it appears, after he was unable to achieve supporting votes from within his coalition for Italy's troops in Afghanistan or to follow through on a two-year-old deal with Washington to expand a military base in Vicenza.

Still, growing negative perceptions in Italy over the US enterprise in the Middle East has been eroding many distinctions in the public mind between the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, according to French analyst Bernard Getta. Such perceptions deepened last week when a judge ordered that 25 suspected CIA operatives stand trial in Milan for kidnapping an Islamist cleric in 2003 and sending him to Egypt. On Feb. 18, tens of thousands of Italians marched in Vicenza.


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