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Iraq controversy clouds Berlusconi's US visit

Iraq controversy clouds Berlusconi's  US visit
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The US and Italian leaders meet today in an encounter overshadowed by claims likely to put a strain on the allies’ relationship. Prime Minister Silvo Berlusconi has travelled to Washington ahead of a TV interview in which he says he repeatedly urged George Bush against invading Iraq.

The interview is to be broadcast on a private Italian channel later today. Berlusconi, who sent Italian troops to help with the occupation of Iraq after the invasion, has tried to play down the affair saying it is something he has said publicly many times before. Adding to the controversy are claims in the Italian paper La Repubblica. The left-leaning daily has said Italy’s intelligence service, possibly under pressure from the government, passed off fake documents which bolstered Washington’s argument that Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction. They related to allegations that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy uranium from Niger in Africa. Belusconi’s decision to send Italian forces to Iraq was deeply unpopular at home. A phased withdrawal began earlier this year but opinion polls show the centre-right government trailing to the opposition ahead of elections next April.