Berlusconi in surprise Iraq visit

Monday
02:17:52
April
12 2004

Berlusconi in surprise Iraq visit

Saturday, Berlusconi's Easter trip to Iraq was a well-kept secret, in one of the most dangerous moment for IRAQ (From US Mil Sources)

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NASIRIYA, Iraq -- Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has made a surprise Easter visit to Italian troops in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriya.

Nasiriya -- where 18 Italians died in a suicide bombing in November -- saw fighting with Shiite al-Sadr insurgents earlier in the week but has largely calmed since.An al-Sadr official said fighters would not attack U.S.-led coalition forces in the city until after a religious ceremonies Sunday, during which hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims will be in the city."We are proud of you, not just because you are doing good for this country in helping it in economic and sociopolitical development, but because you are here to do something more important: to demonstrate that Italy is a nation capable of bringing the principles of rights and civilization to the world," Berlusconi told the troops, according to the ANSA news agency.

"All this is thanks to you, and thanks to you I receive the appreciation of the international community on a daily basis. President Bush too called me with congratulations," he said. "I bring you the embrace of the Italians."A staunch war ally of U.S. President George W. Bush despite vocal domestic opposition, the conservative premier met Italy's commanding general and Barbara Contini, the interim governor of the Iraqi province of Dhi Qar, which includes Nasiriya."He received a briefing from the general, held talks with Contini and then met with the troops," Paola della Casa, an official with the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority in the area, told Reuters."It was a complete shock for everyone. The troops were astonished to see him, and very glad to receive the visit."In pitched street battles with Shi'ite militia earlier this week a dozen Italian troops were wounded in hours of fighting. Fifteen Iraqis, including civilians, were killed.The clashes provoked outcry in Italy, where the government has repeatedly insisted that its 2,700 troops deployed to the country are a peacekeeping force rather than combatants.Della Casa said Berlusconi praised the Italian forces for their contribution, telling them all Italians were fully behind their efforts. Many Italians oppose the deployment and there have been demonstrations calling for the forces to be withdrawn.As Italy marked the Easter holiday, Berlusconi said earlier this week the troops would stay: "It is unthinkable to flee the mission we have started. We would leave the country in chaos."Berlusconi was due to visit the shell of the headquarters hit by November's car bomb, which killed the 18 Italians, before returning to Rome, della Casa said.

Written by cescgian

Source by Giustizia_Federalista


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