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Italy Mourns Soldiers Killed in Iraq Blast

Italy is mourning the deaths of its military personnel from a truck explosion in southern Iraq. Eighteen Italians and eight Iraqis were killed. More than 80 people were injured, including at least 20 Italians. Italian officials reacted by vowing to keep up the fight against terrorism.

Italy is in shock at the high number of casualties suffered in a single attack on its troops in Iraq. For Italy, these were the first deaths among the 2,300 troops serving in the U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq.

A powerful truck bomb ripped through the Italian Carabinieri military police base Wednesday in the southern city of Nassiriya. Some 300 Italian military police have been stationed there since the end of the Iraqi war to provide assistance in reconstruction efforts.

Reacting to the news, President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi said his first thoughts went to the families of the victims. He was speaking just before boarding a plane to the United States, where he will meet President Bush.

He said Italy will continue its role in the battle against international terrorism, along side its allies and within the framework of the United Nations.

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

Flags were lowered to half-staff across Italy. Addressing parliament, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Italy will not be intimidated by the blast and will not budge from its resolve to help Iraq's reconstruction.

Mr. Berlusconi said Italians feel deep sorrow for the lives cut short by terrorism during a mission of humanity and freedom in the service of the Iraqi people.

Defense Minister Antonio Martino also addressed parliament to provide details of the explosion and of those who were behind it.

He said evidence and intelligence reports suggest that the blast was planned and carried out by fighters loyal to deposed Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

Members of Italy's center-left opposition have always been against the deployment of Italian troops in Iraq. Following Wednesday's deaths, they said Italian troops were sent to Iraq because the government wanted to do the Bush administration a favor.

The opposition called on the government to withdraw all Italian troops immediately.