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Italy in Mourning Following Death of 18 Military, Police Officers - 2003-11-13

Italy is in mourning following a suicide truck bomb attack at an Italian military police base southern Iraq. The deaths of 18 Italians shocked a nation where many people had not expected casualties in what is supposed to be a mission of peace.

Flags are flying at half staff across Italy and wreaths are being laid around the headquarters of the Carabinieri military police after Wednesday's explosion in Nassiriyah, which also killed nine Iraqis. The dead Italians were 12 military policemen, four soldiers and two civilians.

The Carabinieri received thousands of calls and messages of condolences. Many of them were being broadcast on radio and television. General Guido Bellini expressed the feelings shared by many military officials.

General Bellini said this is a moment of great pain and suffering in the face of, what he called, "this vile terrorist attack."

Italians are mourning the loss of men who they believed were on a peaceful mission to help with security and reconstruction in Iraq. The bombing caused Italy's highest military death toll since World War II.

The cabinet declared a day of mourning to coincide with the day of the funerals, which has not yet been announced.

Defense Minister Antonio Martino flew to southern Iraq to see the site, and visit the soldiers who were wounded. He said he was struck by the similarity of the attack with the attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001.

"They are the same people. They are the people we are fighting against. And we shall not allow them to terrorize us," he said.

Another 50 Carabinieri military policemen have been sent to Nassiriyah. But some Italian politicians are calling for a new debate on how soon Italian troops should come home. Many from the opposition have been calling for a full review of the Italian mission.