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Deployment of US Paratroopers to Iraq from Italy Criticized - 2003-03-27

The Italian prime minister's office issued a statement Thursday saying U.S. Army paratroopers based in northern Italy would not be used for direct attacks on Iraqi targets. The government came under fire from the opposition after it became clear that paratroopers from the air base at Vicenza had been flown into Iraq.

Italy's center-left opposition accused the Italian government of failing to comply with its pre-war commitments to parliament not to allow bases on its territory to be used for military missions.

Nearly 1,000 U.S. Army paratroopers jumped from low-flying aircraft late Wednesday night and seized an airfield in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. They had flown in from the northern Italian airbase of Vicenza, where the 173rd Airborne Brigade has been based.

The Italian opposition said Italy is allowing bases on its territory to be used for direct military action in Iraq, which is in breach of its constitution.

But the prime minister's office rejected the accusations, saying the paratroopers' mission was consistent with the pre-war parameters on Italian support set by the country's Supreme Defense Council.

The Italian government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said last week that Italy was forced to allow U.S. planes to use its airspace and bases for maintenance and refueling because of existing treaties between the countries.

U.S. officials say the paratroopers' main role is to keep peace among long-feuding Kurdish factions and to separate Kurds from Turkish troops which might cross into Iraq.