Iraqi President: presence of Italian troops in Iraq vital

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani was meeting Tuesday with Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, a strong supporter of the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Talabani is on a weeklong visit to Italy, which includes talks with the country's top officials and a meeting at the Vatican with Pope Benedict XVI.

Also present at the meeting at the premier's office in Rome was Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini.

Later in the day, Talabani was scheduled to meet with opposition leader Romano Prodi, the center-left candidate for premier at a general election next year in Italy.

Berlusconi, a staunch ally of U.S. President George W. Bush, defied strong domestic opposition to the war and sent about 3,000 troops to Iraq after the ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Italy is now gradually pulling out its contingent, the AP reminds.

In comments published by an Italian daily this week, Talabani said a premature withdrawal of Italian troops from his country would be catastrophic and that the presence of multinational forces in Iraq was vital.


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