"On Iraq, Italy has very clear ideas"
Italy will not pull troops from Iraq until "establishment of a new government in Baghdad."
Italy plans to withdraw its troops from Iraq but not before elections and the establishment of a new government in Baghdad, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini was quoted in the country's press as saying.
"On Iraq, Italy has very clear ideas," Mr Frattini was quoted as saying during a trip to Washington at the weekend.
"We have a three-phase plan - the first is the election and we are working together so that the elections are real and they take place by January 2005," he said.
The second stage would be a new Iraqi Government chosen by the Iraqi people, he added.
"And to finish up, we will work so that the Government invites other countries, Arab ones in particular, to be present on the ground," Mr Frattini said.
The Minister mentioned no dates but the Italian press interpreted his comments as a signal for the announced Italian troop withdrawal.
During the weekend Italy's Defence Minister Antonio Martino said it could begin reducing its contingent in the violence-wracked country during 2005.
"An immediate withdrawal would be inexplicable. But a first step could be a reduction in our contingent during 2005," the Corriere della Sera quoted Mr Martino as saying on Saturday on the sidelines of an Italian television program.
He said any withdrawal or reduction in the Italian contingent was conditional on democracy returning to Iraq in the form of "a fully legitimate government" following the elections, planned for January.