Prodi says war grave mistake

ROME (AP) — Premier Romano Prodi said Thursday the war in Iraq was a grave mistake but that Italy would remain on the front lines in the war against terror.

Prodi said his government would back Italy’s participation in anti-terror operations if they were sanctioned by international organisations, such as the United Nations.

“We consider the war and occupation in Iraq a grave error that hasn’t solved — but has complicated — the problem of security,” Prodi said in his first address to the Senate as premier. “Terrorism has found a new base and new excuses for internal and external terrorist action.” “We are convinced participants in the war against terrorism, even militarily, when it is legitimised by an international organisation to which we belong.” However, he said in his speech that terrorism should be fought primarily on the “political, social and economic” fronts, and in ways that “do not limit our freedom or our rights.” As opposition leader, Prodi opposed the war in Iraq and had said during the campaign that the remaining troops would be pulled out “as soon as possible.”

The government of former conservative Premier Silvio Berlusconi sent about 3,000 troops to Iraq to help reconstruction after the ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003, but the move was widely opposed by Italians.

The contingent is being pulled out gradually, and Berlusconi’s government had said the withdrawal would be completed by the end of the year.

Prodi reiterated Thursday that his government “intends to propose to parliament the withdrawal of our soldiers,” but he did not give a precise timeline, saying only it would happen in consultation with Iraqi authorities and other “interested parties.” The ministry of defence said more than 2,600 Italian troops were still in Iraq.

Prodi said dangers in today’s world included the issue of nuclear proliferation, a reference to the West’s current standoff over Iran’s uranium enrichment programme.

“The world that we live in is still filled with risks, tensions and fears,” Prodi said. “The reasons for serious worry and alarm are many and growing. Among these I include the risk of a renewal of nuclear proliferation.” On a different topic, Prodi also vowed to do everything in his power to help make Europe a strong and unified force on the international scene, but was careful not to sideline the United States.

“And also to consolidate and enrich … the historic alliance with the United States of America,” Prodi said.

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