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At Least 26 Dead in Iraq Blast - 2003-11-12

At least 18 Italian soldiers and eight Iraqis are dead in a suicide truck bombing in southern Iraq. The attack caused some members of Italy's parliament to question the country's role in Iraq, but senior officials say Italy will not be deterred.

The powerful truck bomb exploded at the headquarters of the Italian Carabinieri military police in the southern Iraqi city of Nassiriyah.

The main building was in flames after the blast. Several houses around the base were badly damaged and dozens of wounded Iraqis were admitted to hospitals. Officials say the number of dead could rise as soldiers could still be trapped in the rubble.

These are the first deaths among the 2,300 Italian troops serving in the U.S.-led multi-national force. More than 300 Italian military police officers are based at the Nassiriyah camp, along with about 100 Romanians.

Reacting to the news, President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi said his first thoughts went to the families of the victims. Mr. Ciampi spoke at the airport just before boarding a plane for the United States, where he will meet President Bush.

Mr. Ciampi called the bombing an ignoble act of terrorism which will not stop Italy from continuing its mission.

Mr. Ciampi said Italy would continue to carry out its role in the battle against international terrorism, with its allies and within the framework of the United Nations.

Pope John Paul II condemned the bombing, calling it a vile attack against a mission of peace.

Addressing the Italian parliament, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Italy would not be intimidated by the blast and would not budge from its resolve to help with Iraq's reconstruction.

Mr. Berlusconi said Italians feel deep pain for the lives ended by terrorism during a humanitarian mission to assist the Iraqi people and defend stability and security in the Middle East.

Despite Mr Berlusconi's resolve, members of the opposition are demanding Italy pull its troops out of Iraq because the situation there has become too dangerous.

The Italian government backed the U.S. led war against Iraq, but the population was divided on the issue, and opposed to sending combat troops into the country. Italy agreed to send in soldiers at the end of the war.