March 18, 2005
Nations dropping out of US-led coalition in Iraq

ROME (AP) – Italy’s prime minister announced plans to start drawing down his country’s 3,000-strong contingent in Iraq in September, putting a fresh crack in US President George W Bush’s crumbling coalition. Bulgaria also called for a partial withdrawal, and Ukraine welcomed home its first wave of returning troops.{{more}}

The moves come on top of the withdrawal of more than a dozen countries over the last year and could complicate efforts to keep the peace while Iraq’s new government builds up police and military units capable of taking over from foreign forces.

Two years after the US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein, the coalition is unravelling amid mounting casualties and kidnappings that have stoked anti-war sentiment and sapped leaders’ resolve to keep troops in harm’s way.

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, who confirmed he would seek re-election next year, alluded to the rising public discontent and said he had spoken with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, another strong Washington ally. “We need to construct a precise exit strategy, also because our publics’ opinions expect this communication and we agree to talk about it soon.”

“Starting with the month of September, we would like to proceed with a gradual reduction of our soldiers,” Berlusconi said on a state TV talk show that lasted into early Wednesday. He added that the withdrawal would be tied to the Iraqis’ ability to secure the country.