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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 November 2005, 13:31 GMT
Italy mulls 2006 Iraq withdrawal
Italian soldier
The Italian contingent has suffered losses during its time in Iraq
Italy will probably withdraw its troops from Iraq by the end of 2006, according to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Speaking after talks in Tunisia, Mr Berlusconi said the date had been discussed with Italy's allies and the Iraqi government.

Italy's defence ministry says planning will begin by January on the detail of exactly when and how the 3,000 or so troops will be withdrawn.

The country's involvement in Iraq has been unpopular with Italians.

Mr Berlusconi said the withdrawal would be done "in agreement with the other allies and it will be done in agreement with the Iraqi government".

"If you ask us what could be the date marking the end of our presence, we have spoken about the end of 2006 with our allies and with the Iraqi government," he said.

The issue of keeping troops in Iraq has also been a recent topic of debate in the United States and among its allies.

On Sunday, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld strongly defended US policy in Iraq, saying an immediate troop pull-out would be a "terrible thing".

His comments followed a Congress debate last week in which a resolution on an immediate withdrawal was beaten.

Allied withdrawals

The US has about 160,000 troops serving in Iraq, but that is expected to fall to 138,000 after Iraq's elections on 15 December.

The parliament in South Korea is to debate a government proposal to withdraw a third of its 3,600 troops out of Iraq. The South Korean contingent is the largest there after US and British forces.

Earlier this month, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani himself said British troops could possibly leave Iraq by the end of next year. He said Iraqi troops would be ready to replace the British in the south within a year.

In a separate development, the Italian Defence Ministry said the US was withdrawing its submarines from the island of La Maddalena, off Sardinia, where a US naval support facility is based.

Politicians and residents have opposed the servicing of US nuclear submarines there.

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