Funding to extend the deployment of Italian troops in Iraq until the end of this year was approved in the lower house. The measure now needs approval of the upper house.
Defense Minister Antonio Martino expressed satisfaction at the lower house result. Italy has 3,000 troops in Iraq. Mr. Martino said this will allow them to continue with their work, which he said is absolutely necessary for the future of a democratic, free and prosperous Iraq.
He said Italy's job in Iraq has not been completed, but he confirmed that a gradual pullout of Italian troops would begin soon. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said earlier this month that Italy would begin bringing home about 300 troops in September, as local security forces have become increasingly capable of controlling the territory.
In parliament Thursday, most of the center-left opposition, including Green leader Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio, voted against the continued presence of Italian soldiers in Iraq. "Voting against the extension means calling for the immediate withdrawal of the troops. We, along with the whole of the pacifist movement, have been fighting for this objective," he said.
Italy on Thursday also moved closer to adopting a package of new security measures to combat terrorism. The proposals, which have caused friction among coalition partners, was examined at a meeting chaired by the prime minister.
The Northern League had called for Italy to suspend Europe's open borders agreement, and said the new package of measures was too soft.
But the differences now appear to have been ironed out. After the meeting, Defense Minister Martino said "there's an excellent agreement between the interior and justice ministers and the other interested ministers. We are on the eve of approving the package."
The exact details of the final package have not yet been disclosed, but the anti-terrorism measures drawn up by the interior minister include expanding from 12-24 hours the period police can hold and question a suspect without the presence of a lawyer, and providing incentives, such as awarding residence permits to illegal immigrants who help uncover terrorist activity.