Reverse Pizza! or, When Weasels Weep
Update: No one can imbrogliare like Berlusconi. From today's rant:
I spoke with the President of the United States and I told him: George, things are just the way they were. I haven't issued a retraction; all the confusion was created by the press, which is devoid of intellectual honesty. It is impossible to see any turnaround, any change or any lack of consistency in what I've been saying to the allies. It's a complete invention caused by a disinformation campaign from the left. We won't be there forever...We're in Iraq to bring freedom and security to the Iraqi people.
I'm taking off the cheese and the olives and the pepperoni...gradually, so you don't notice so much. Then I'm removing the tomato, then the crust. Giorgio, wassah matter with you? You don't like a-pizza? I make a good pizza!
Silvio Berlusconi is a slippery guy. Right now the fine upstanding Northern (European) Protestants Blair and Bush are sputtering and cursing his dago garlic breath. The uppity Eyetie! In once, in for life! What is it about Mafia that he doesn't understand?
Assertion and denial. Clarity and mud. Silvio doesn't like it when the tea-drinkers give him flack so he's serving up imbroglio.
In this morning's Question Time in the House of Commons, Blair asserted that there had been a misunderstanding...the Italian Premier didn't mean to say pullout.
Shift to Rome. I had absolutely no misunderstanding with Blair, says Berlusconi. We understood each other very well.
Now Washington. The White House phones Palazzo Chigi. Bush reports the conversation, saying, I had phoned him on an entirely unrelated matter, but Berlusconi (notice--no "Mister", no "Prime Minister") brought up the question of Italian troop permanency in Iraq. First, he wanted to let me know that nothing has changed in his policy; any withdrawal would be decided with the allies and would be made in function of the capacity of the Iraqis to defend themselves unassisted.
Back to Rome. I informed Mr. Bush that I would like to begin, possibly in September, a gradual and progressive repatriation of the Italian military contingent in Iraq. I believe the Iraqi government will have the forces necessary to maintain order in September. We are currently training these same forces, who will be able to assume their duties well before that time.
For insiders only: Rumsfeld has been pressuring Italian Defense Minister Martino to participate in the operations in Ramadi and Baquba. The request for three combat helicopters, thought to be for this purpose, by the Italian contingent set off alarm bells. The request was granted but Berlusconi knows that the entry of Italian troops in combat would move parliament to recall the contingent. Then the shocker...the Italian command was possibly permitting secret combat missions which led to the death of a helicopter gunner last month and a paratrooper-artilleryman yesterday. Already on thin ice, the slaying of Nicola Calipari of Italian military intelligence turned members of Berluscomi's own governing coalition against him. On Monday, we can infer that Berlusconi had to cut a deal with the opposition to pass a 6-month financing bill for the mission which expires in September. Parliament has the goods on him. The deal was obviously a pullout in September.
Who's going and who's staying:
Staying: Great Britain (8,761 troops) - South Korea (3,600) - Romania (730) - Japan (550) - Denmark (496) - Bulgaria (485) - El Salvador (380) - Australia (400)* - Georgia (400)** - Mongolia (180) - Azerbaijian (151) - Latvia (122) - Lithuania (120; possibile pullout) - Czech Republic (110) - Slovakia (105) - Albania (71)*** - Estonia (55) - Armenia (46) - Tonga (45) - Macedonia (33) - Kazakistan (29) - Moldova (12) - Singapore (amphibious fleet in the Gulf) - Fiji (150 under UN flag).
* To be increased to 1,400
** To be increased to 898, some serving under UN command
*** To be increased to 200
Going: Poland(start: January 2005; end: circumstances permitting;) - Holland (March 2005) - Ukraine(start: 16 March; end: October 2005) - Bulgaria (by end 2005) - Italy (3,085 troops; start: September 2005, end: circumstances permitting in Dhi Qar Province)
Gone: Nicaragua (February 2004) - Spain (April 2004) - Dominican Republic (May 2004) - Honduras (May 2004) - Philippines (July 2004) - Thailand (August 2004) - New Zealand (September 2004) - Hungary (December 2004) - Portugal (February 2005).