Ex-hostage: Berlusconi must stick to Iraq pull-out

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The Independent Online

A freed Italian hostage, Guiliana Sgrena, has added to the pressure on Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, by calling on him to keep his word and stick to the undertaking given on Tuesday to withdraw Italian troops from Iraq.

Speaking to The Independent, she said: "Berlusconi has, for the first time, announced his intention of withdrawing troops and that is undoubtedly a positive fact. We must, therefore, induce him to keep his word.

"I am sure the great emotion provoked by the death of Nicola Calipari [a secret service agent] is behind this. Berlusconi has had to take account of public opinion. Italians have always been against the war but, according to polls, the percentage of those against has increased enormously in the past month."

Ms Sgrena, who writes for the daily Il Manifesto, was freed by her Iraqi captors on 4 March but Mr Calipari, the agent who negotiated her release, was killed by American fire as the car in which they were travelling approached Baghdad's airport. Ms Sgrena was also injured in the attack.

The killing sparked anger in Italy. Mr Berlusconi's declaration that he could begin withdrawing troops as early as September is thought to have been influenced by revulsion at the killing of Mr Calipari.

In deciding not to return to Iraq, Ms Sgrena says she feels a "great sense of defeat ... The situation has degenerated to the point that the only people who have a voice are those who use violence, whether it's the occupation forces, terrorist groups, or the resistance."