Italy says it will withdraw 1,000 of its 2,600 troops in Iraq by June and aims to finish its mission there by the end of this year. The announcement by Defence Minister Antonio Martino marked the first official confirmation of a timetable.
Italy faces a general election next April where the unpopular Iraq war is likely to become an issue. The Italian force is the fourth largest foreign contingent in Iraq. It has come under several attacks, the worst being in November 2003 when 19 Italians were killed in Nasiriya. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had already said that all the troops would be withdrawn by the end of 2006 in coordination with the Iraqi government.