Thu, Nov 13, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Bomb at Italian HQ in Iraq kills at least 22

SUICIDE ATTACK While the US tries speed up the process of handing over power to Iraqis, violence continues with a car bomb striking at a military police base in Nasiriyah


A bomb blast ripped through an Italian military police base in the Iraqi town of Nasiriyah yesterday, killing at least 14 Italians and eight Iraqis in what appeared to be a fresh suicide attack on occupying forces.

The explosion occurred as Washington attempted to speed up the process of handing over power to an Iraqi government, although US officials insist this is not an exit strategy.

A spokesman for the carabinieri in Rome said 11 of those killed in Nasiriyah were military police and three were from the army.

Witnesses said it appeared to be a suicide attack. Several houses around the base were badly damaged and many Iraqi residents injured.

"A car bomber crashed through the compound where the Italians live," said Aysha Abdul Wahab, who lives near the base. "The explosions damaged a number of houses. My two daughters are injured."

Around 2,300 Italian troops are in southern Iraq, many based in Nasiriyah on the banks of the Euphrates River which had been relatively calm since the war. The Italians are part of a British-led multinational force in charge of security in the south of the country.

A reporter for Portuguese state radio RDP in Nasiriyah said the blast had devastated the Italian base.

"It was an attack by a suicide car bomb on the entrance of the headquarters," the RDP reporter said. "It was exactly there that the car entered and it was exactly there that the suicide [attacker] set off the explosives."

The deaths were the first among non-British members of the southern multinational force from hostile fire. Last week guerrillas shot dead a Polish major in a separate multinational force in central Iraq.

Reacting to the blast, Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi said Italy would continue its fight against international terrorism with its allies at the UN.

Attacks in Iraq have killed at least 154 US and 12 British soldiers since major combat was declared over on May 1.

On Tuesday evening a US soldier was killed north of Baghdad when his vehicle drove over a bomb planted on a road, the US military said yesterday.

Top US 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 US to Iraqi control.

Washington wants the Iraqi Governing Council to agree on a method for drawing up a constitution, which would pave the way for democratic elections and a handover of power.

The UN Security Council has set a Dec. 15 deadline for the Governing Council to schedule a timetable for the political transition, and officials in Washington are growing frustrated with the pace of progress.

"The discussions are with that in mind, looking at the performance of the Governing Council," a senior US official said. He said Bremer was not expected to leave his job.

But other officials said there was mounting friction between the US governor and Washington over Bremer's 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 said 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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