Italy to send 130 military personnel to Iraq to recover wounded

 Reuters International

ROME (Reuters) – Italy will send a team specialised in treating war wounded to Iraq as it prepares to send troops to guard Mosul dam maintenance workers, Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti said on Thursday.

In the wake of the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris in November, Italy declined French and American calls to join in air strikes in Syria. But it has since announced an increase in its non-combat presence in Iraq, where Islamic State’s self declared caliphate also extends.

In an interview with Canale 5 television, Pinotti said Italy’s cabinet would approve a mission to send 130 military personnel to retrieve and treat the wounded in the coming weeks.

“It is a big commitment (of personnel) because to go and pick up a wounded person in a war zone is not something one can do without risks,” Pinotti said.

The mission responds to France’s calls after the Paris attacks for allies to do more to fight Islamic State, she said, giving no further details about the planned operation.

In December, the Italian government said it would deploy 450 soldiers to protect workers making urgent repairs on the Mosul dam. Together the two new missions will at least double Italy’s presence in Iraq in coming months to more than 1,000.

On Tuesday Italy said its Trevi Group had won a bid to carry out urgent repairs to Mosul’s 3.6-km-long (2.2-mile) hydro-electric dam, which has suffered from structural flaws since its construction in the 1980s.

A U.S. general said last week there was chance of catastrophic collapse of the dam, which would unleash a wall of water down the heavily populated Tigris River valley.

Italy has about 530 soldiers in Iraq already. Some are in Erbil training Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, while others are providing training to counter terrorism forces and police in Baghdad.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Dominic Evans)

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