Nassiriya, Nov. 12 (Reuters): A car bomb ripped through an Italian military police base here today, killing at least 17 Italians and eight Iraqis in what appeared to be a fresh suicide attack.
The attack came as President George W. Bush and Iraq’s US governor Paul Bremer discussed ways to speed the handover of power to the Iraqis in a second day of talks in Washington.
The blast tore off the front of the three-storey concrete building used by the Carabinieri on the Euphrates riverfront, set cars on fire and sent a plume of black smoke into the air.
“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.
Italian defence minister Antonio Martino said the Italian dead were 11 Carabinieri military police personnel, four soldiers and two civilians — Italy’s highest military death toll since World War II.
Khudair al-Hazbar, the director of Nassiriya General Hospital, said at least eight Iraqis were killed and more than 80 wounded.
One of the wounded was a one-year-old child who lost his eyes and nose. “He will die for sure,” Hazbar said.
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.
“The front of my house is destroyed,” Jamal Kadhim Shwail, a doctor who lives near the base, said on telephone. “I have just come back from the hospital where I operated on my own two daughters. It was a huge explosion. We are all in shock.”
Martino said fighters loyal to Saddam Hussein were behind the attack.
“Evidence on the ground and intelligence reports lead us to believe that today’s attack was planned and carried out by remnants loyal to Saddam... united with Arab extremists,” he said.
The bombing, described by Pope John Paul as a “vile attack” against a mission of peace, 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 Italian deaths were the first among non-British members of the southern multinational force in hostile fire.
Around 2,300 Italian troops are in southern Iraq, many based in Nassiriya which had been relatively calm since the war. Italian and Romanian forces in the city, part of the British-led force, have been generally well received by locals.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said the troops would stay.