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Friday, March 28, 2003

Here comes some Italian politics. It is not quite entirely domestic and it has to do with Iraq and the USA and in particular with the 173 airborn flying from Italy to Iraqi Kurdistand and parachuting. fans will have noticed a very odd aspect of the story on this extremely dramatic operation as (maybe may be) seen following this (possibly still current) link

For some reason, US military sources refused to say exactly where the planes which dropped the 173rd took off and landed except that it was the same place somewhere in Europe "The paratroopers stepped out of C-17 Globemaster transport planes that took off from an undisclosed airfield in Europe, according to CNN Correspondent Steve Nettleton, who is embedded with the unit there." CNN notes that the 173rd airborn brigades is based in Vicenza Italy. What is going on ?

Well US readers (if any) probably haven't been following the case of every little country counted as part of the coalition by Bush (Italy is definitely included). In Italy however, public opinion is strongly against the invasion and the prime minister is trying to avoid going out on a limb. Therefore Italy is officially not a belligerant. As a NATO ally, Italy allows the US to use Italian air space, roads, rail roads etc but US forces are not supposed to launch attachs on Iraq from Italy. Hence the extreme discretion of US sources about where they are coming from. Needless to say, Italians, including opposition politicians, caught on (even I would probably have been able to figure it out from the CNN story).

The current official line is that these are very peaceful paratroopers as reported at

P. CHIGI: DA PARA' EDERLE NESSUN ATTACCO - Silvio Berlusconi conferma che le autorita' statunitensi preposte alle operazioni hanno fornito esplicita conferma che la missione intrapresa dalle forze americane stazionate nella base di Ederle ''esclude l'attacco ad obiettivi iracheni ed annette preminenti finalita' di stabilizzazione territoriale ed avvio di azioni umanitarie nei confronti della popolazione locale''. L'indicazione e' contenuta in una lettera inviata oggi dal presidente del Consiglio a Pier Ferdinando Casini, presidente della Camera dei deputati.
27/03/2003 16:54

That is
Silvio Berlusconi (Italian prime minister) conferms that the US authorities in charge of the operation have explicitely confermed
that the mission of the American forces stationed in the Ederle base "Exclude attacks on Iraqi objectives and that the principal aims are to stabilize (secure) the territory and begin humanitarian assistance to the local population." The assertion is part of a letter sent by the Prime minister to Pier Ferdinando Casini, President of the lower house of parliament.

(my translation)

I should admit that the letter contains a lot of very unusual and high falutin words whose meaning I am guessing including "preposte" (not to be confused with preposterous) annette (not to be confused with anientare that is anihilate) . I stress that the clarification that humanitarian assistance is for the local population not say Zaireans or Papuans was definitely in the original.

I hazard a guess that this peaceful paratrooper line will not convince quite everyone. US sources are very much more forthcoming about the aims of the operation, although they are trying to be diplomatic about one of the main the messages: "Turkish armed forces are not invited". In fact the same ANSA (Italian wire service) story began

... 173/a brigata aviotrasportata statunitense, di stanza nella base italiana di Ederle, dalla quale sono partiti nelle ultime ore. L'operazione ha consentito agli americani di impadronirsi di un aeroporto in cui far affluire i mezzi pesanti (carri armati, blindati etc.) e le altre truppe necessarie per poter stringere Baghdad fra due fuochi.

that is, ... US 173rd airborn brigade, based in the Italian Ederle base (this is the name of the base in Vicenza : note added) from which they took off recently. The operation enabled the Americans to take control of an airport with which to deliver heavy arms (tanks, armored personel carriers etc) and the additional troops necessary for a pincer operation on Baghdad.
before quoting Berlusconi's claims that the operation is principally humanitarian.

Hmm invisibile insanity. For those to young to remember how bad computer translators used to be (or maybe how feeble jokes used to be). There is an old joke about computer translating "out of sight, out of mind" to Russian then back to English and getting "Invisible Insanity". Ansa is probably translating AP or CNN or someone. The original original is probably more like (from CNN) "The Army aims to secure the northern area so a larger armored force can enter. Another goal is to stabilize the area to prevent other forces from coming in, whether it be Turks from the north or Iraqis from the south. The move will also eventually lead the way to the entry of humanitarian aid". Notice no prediction of an offensive towards Baghdad.

One potentially interesting aspect is the role of Casini. He is involved because, as president of the chamber of deputies (lower house) he is supposed to make sure that the Berlusconi government respects the role of that branch of parliament and keeps promises made on the floor of the chamber of deputies (in this case that Italian based not be used to launch attacks on Iraq). He is also the head of the one of the tiny splinters of the once mighty christian democratic party the CCD. I think that stands for Centro Cristiano Democratico but I'm not sure even Casini pretends to be sure. This party gets about 3 or 4 percent of the vote which is fairly respectably by current Italian standards but does mean that Casini has to present himself as a respectful team player.

The problem (opportunity) is that it is not exactly clear who is the team captain -- Berlusconi head of the governing coalition or John Paul II head of the one true catholic and apostolic church. Casini has had to decide if he is going to be a team player forever or if he is going to try to take advantage of a huge issue where 80% of Italians and the pope strongly disagree with the current prime minister. It is clear, if he can't make trouble for Berlusconi now, then he is just a pretty face. It is, by now, clear that he is going for it (I personally think that it is the prime ministership -- the only thing that counts).

First, when the majority was changing a law to help one of them, who is on trial in Milan, to block the risk of a sentence being passed in the relevant future, Casini did not use as extreme measures to stop the opposition filibuster as his colleague in the Senate (Marcello Pera a professor of philosophy not a potential prime minister). Then he (and Pera) appointed a semi-former communist as chairman of the committee of 5 which protects public TV (RAI) from political influence (no joke intended).

I won't bore any possible readers with discussion of recent developments in these cases (sentence due to be announced today is now delayed at least until 2nd April, President of the committee of 5 outvoted 3 to 2 on who actually runs RAI).

The point is judges in Milan and television are key issues to the prime minister (unlike say wars in Iraq).

In case anyone hadn't noticed, Casini recently said that there was a problem with politics being invaded (entered infiltrated) by businessmen in a way which threatens pluralism as they take important positions in the institutions and cabinet.

Given the frank and open style of political discussion within coalitions and Casini's generally very mild manners, this ranks somewhere between an open declaration of war and a shock and awe campaign.

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