Bomb at Italian base in Iraq kills at least 22
( 2003-11-12 21:54) (Reuters)
A car bomb ripped through an Italian military police base in the Iraqi town of Nassiriya on Wednesday, killing at least 14 Italians and eight Iraqis in what appeared to be a fresh suicide attack.
The attack occurred as Washington attempted to speed up the process of handing over power to an Iraqi government, although U.S. officials insist this is not an exit strategy.
Carabinieri military police officials in Rome said the Italian deaths were believed to be 11 military police and three army soldiers. Hospital officials in Nassiriya said eight Iraqis were killed.
"A truck crashed into the entrance of the military police unit, closely followed by a car which detonated," said a spokeswoman for the British-led multinational force in southern Iraq.
The bomb threw up a huge plume of dust and smoke and shattered windows hundreds of meters (yards) away. Several houses around the base were badly damaged and dozens of wounded Iraqis were admitted to hospital.
"A car bomber crashed through the compound where the Italians live," said Aysha Abdul Wahab who lives near the base and spoke to Reuters by telephone. "The explosions damaged a number of houses. My two daughters are injured."
Around 2,300 Italian troops are in southern Iraq, many based in Nassiriya on the banks of the Euphrates river which had been relatively calm since the war. Italian and Romanian forces in the city, part of the British-led force, have been generally well received by locals.
BLOODIEST ATTACK SINCE AUGUST
The blast was the bloodiest single attack in Iraq since August when at least 80 Iraqis were killed by a car bomb outside a mosque in Najaf.
Earlier that month, a suicide bomber killed 22 people in an attack on the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.
Wednesday's deaths were the first among non-British members of the southern multinational force in hostile fire. Last week guerrillas shot dead a Polish major serving in a separate multinational force in central Iraq.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Italy would not be intimidated by the bombing.
"No intimidation will budge us from our willingness to help that country rise up again and rebuild itself with self-government, security and freedom," he said in a statement.
Attacks in Iraq have killed at least 155 U.S. and 12 British soldiers since major combat was declared over on May 1.
A bomb attack in Baghdad on Tuesday killed a U.S. soldier and wounded two, a U.S. military statement said on Wednesday. The U.S. military also said a U.S. soldier was killed north of Baghdad on Tuesday evening when his vehicle drove over a bomb planted on a road.
URGENT TALKS AT WHITE HOUSE
Top U.S. officials, including Iraq governor Paul Bremer who was summoned from Baghdad, held a hastily convened White House meeting on Tuesday to discuss ways to accelerate the shift from U.S. to Iraqi control, amid indications President Bush's administration was rethinking policy.
Washington wants the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council to agree a method for drawing up a constitution, which would pave the way for democratic elections and a handover of power.
The U.N. Security Council has set a December 15 deadline for the Governing Council to schedule a timetable for the political transition.
A senior U.S. official Bremer was not expected to leave his job but other officials said there was mounting friction between the U.S. governor and Washington over his resistance to accelerating the transfer of authority to Iraqis.
Jalal Talabani, an Iraqi Kurd who holds the rotating presidency of the Governing Council, said the best way forward was to install a provisional government without delay.
"I think it is very reasonable and necessary to have a provisional government before having a constitution," Talabani told Reuters in an interview.
The Council, however, has not won wide support among Iraqis and an unelected government would be unlikely to be welcomed.
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