|An Italian military policeman walks away from the bomb blast in Nassiriya. (Reuters)
Nassiriya, Nov. 12 (Reuters): Iraqi traffic policeman Ahmed Nasser was standing nearby as a fuel tanker drove towards an Italian police base in Nassiriya. Seconds later, a huge explosion destroyed the calm the town has enjoyed since the war.
“I saw the tanker coming fast over the bridge. I couldn’t see any security police outside the gates of the base. The tanker zig-zagged across the road so it could get through the gate,” said Nasser, 30, nursing a broken arm in hospital. “Then it exploded.”
At least 17 Italians and eight Iraqis died in the suicide attack, which the British military said involved the truck and a civilian car. The Italian dead included 11 Carabinieri military police, four army soldiers and two civilians. At least 20 Italians were wounded. It was Italy’s highest military death toll since World War Two.
Nassiriya General Hospital director Khudair al-Hazbar said at least eight Iraqis were killed and more than 80 wounded. Many wounded were not expected to survive, doctors said.
It 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. The explosion tore the front off the concrete building used by the Carabinieri on the Euphrates riverfront 375 km 235 miles southeast of Baghdad. It set cars on fire and sent a plume of black smoke into the air.
Ambulances and fire engines rushed to the scene with sirens wailing. The explosion shattered windows hundreds of metres away, and houses near the base were badly damaged.
“A truck crashed into the entrance of the military police unit, closely followed by a car which detonated,” a spokeswoman for the British-led multinational force in southern Iraq said. Aid worker Fadhil Abbas Khodeir, 42, said somebody in the tanker had pointed a gun at guards before it exploded.
“The tanker came through the car park. Nobody stopped it,” Khodeir, who works for the International Medical Corps, said in the general hospital.
“Someone wearing a black shirt put a hand out of the window and pointed it at the guards. Then it blew up.”
Several aid agencies were based in the same road as the base. Nassiriya has been relatively peaceful since Saddam was ousted in April, unlike Baghdad where most aid workers have been forced to leave by security fears.
Now humanitarian organisations are also thinking of pulling out of Nassiriya.
The Italian and Romanian forces in Nassiriya had been generally well received by the local people. Jassem Abdel-Hassan, a researcher for aid group Caritas, was in a nearby building when the attack took place.“The windows came flying in and I lost consciousness,” he said.
“I thought this was a safe place,” he said. “This is a black day. This will really change things here.” Witnesses said security was not tight near the base, due to Nassiriya’s reputation as a haven of calm in the violent country. “The Italians weren’t like the Americans,” Khodeir said. “They know that this is an easy going town.”
US soldiers opened fire on a truck coming back from a chicken farm near the tense Iraqi town of Falluja, killing five people and wounding three hospital officials said today. A US spokesman said troops had killed five “enemy militants” after coming under attack on the outskirts of the town. Relatives said the truck was fired at near a checkpoint last evening, and hospital officials said five bodies had been brought in with gunshot wounds.