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  • Italy on the Anniversary of War
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    March 21, 2004 - This weekend marked the first anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, a time to reflect on a year full of tragedy despite the capture of dictator Saddam Hussein. The United States has lost more than 570 troops in Iraq since last March. Suicide bombers in Nasiriyah killed 19 Italian military peacekeepers in November. Just last week Europe experienced its 9-11 when at least 200 people were killed and 1,500 injured in coordinated bomb attacks linked to Al Qaeda on trains in Madrid. Before the attack on Spain, Italy already was receiving terror threats. Now, the dangers seem more imminent than ever.

    In the days since Madrid's profound suffering, reports surfaced that Italy may very well be Al Qaeda's next target. Yesterday, which was the official anniversary of the war's start, and other days in June were mentioned as possible attack dates. Other intelligence reportedly suggests that Islamic jihadists will be targeting Italian churches during upcoming Easter celebrations.

    Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's ardent support of the United States, Italy's strong ties to the Catholic Church and its popularity with American tourists are among the many reasons terrorists are aiming for our Motherland. Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu wants to double the 12,000 officers guarding major terror targets and possibly install metal detectors at train stations, according to Il Sole 24 Ore. These undertakings could cost between 250 and 450 million euros. Italy has arrested more than 100 suspected Islamic terrorists since September 11, 2001, but most had to be released for lack of evidence, according to a recent article by Sophie Arie in the Guardian.

    In her piece, Arie goes on to point out that at the start of the war, about 70 percent of Italians opposed support of the United States' attack on Iraq. Things changed a bit after Italians were killed in Nasiriyah, a tragedy that caused a wave of patriotism and strengthened the resolve to fight this new breed of enemy. But still, most Italians remain opposed to the U.S. occupation in Iraq. In the last week, thousands of Europeans have poured into the streets to show they are unafraid of terrorists and to call for peace. The Spanish ousted conservative Prime Minister José María Aznar for socialist Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who promises to pull troops out of Iraq. There has been speculation that Berlusconi will face the same fate as Aznar as Italians inch toward reelections. I find it interesting that in the wake of its 9-11, Europe is calling for peace, whereas America called for war.

    One year ago, I went to Italy to visit my relatives for Easter with a mound of fear churning in my stomach. I departed for Rome from New York City on Good Friday, and wondered if my Alitalia flight would be a target for terrorists. I boarded a boat in Naples and thought about the possibility that the sea could be the next setting for bloodbath. The United States had just gone to war with Iraq and the possibilities for retaliation were endless. Nothing happened - to me. But, according to Newsweek, a senior counter-terrorism official in President George Bush's administration said that "there have been more major terror attacks in the 30 months since 9-11 than in the 30 months before." There's no disputing this statement when you think about the horrors that have taken place around the world recently - from the bombings in Saudi Arabia to the blasts in Baghdad.

    In just a few weeks, I will once again travel to Italy for Easter. President Bush says that the war is officially over. Tell that to my stomach. It seems to know that the war has only just begun - and no one is safe. But my brooding belly won't keep me from going to Italy or taking the train to D.C. next weekend or going into Manhattan whenever I please. I carry a photo that I took on my last trip to Ischia of a rainbow flag with the word "pace" on it. There are beautiful white flowers dangling from the above balcony. That picture is my hope for a happier - and safer - tomorrow. It is what drives me to move on with my life for better or worse.

    What's on your mind a year after the war in Iraq? Tell me about it here:


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