Italy's defense minister said Thursday the country will pull 300 more troops out of Iraq in January, continuing a gradual withdrawal begun earlier this year.

Antonio Martino said the reduction would bring Italian troop levels in Iraq to 2,600, in comments confirmed by his ministry.

The reduction follows the pullout of an initial batch of around 10 percent, or about 300 troops, in September, Martino said.

Premier Silvio Berlusconi, a strong U.S. ally, defied strong domestic opposition and sent about 3,000 troops to Iraq to help rebuild the country after the ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Berlusconi's government has said any withdrawal would depend on the security situation in Iraq and be made in agreement with coalition allies and with the Iraqi government.

Martino reiterated this position during talks with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in Washington last month.

Following the visit, the Defense Ministry said the "gradual withdrawal of the soldiers will not amount to an Italian abandonment of the commitments made with the allies and the Iraqi government."