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Italian death toll rises in Iraq

Two vehicles crashed the gate of the Italian military headquarters in Nasiriya before at least one of them exploded.

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Explosion hits Italian police headquarters in Nasiriya, Iraq
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The death toll in a suicide bombing at the Italian military headquarters in southern Iraq has risen to 17, said Lt. Catherine McIntosh, a British spokeswoman.

Italian Defense Minister Antonio Martino told the Italian parliament that 11 of the dead are Italian Carabinieri, or military police, four are army soldiers and one is an Italian civilian.

Catherine Macintosh, a press officer with Multinational defense forces, later said a second civilian had died.

Iraqi hospital sources told CNN's Ben Wedeman that at least eight Iraqis also died, bringing the total number of dead to 24. Seven Italians were wounded in the blast, according to officials.

The blast happened shortly before 11 a.m. (0800 GMT) Wednesday when two vehicles crashed the gate of the Italian headquarters in Nasiriya and at least one of them exploded, according to coalition and Italian officials.

The car had a detonator and was loaded with explosives, but it wasn't clear whether the truck also was carrying explosives, officials said.

It was the first attack on Italians in Iraq since U.S. President George W. Bush announced the end of major combat on May 1.

Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi called the explosion a "terrorist act," and blamed the attack on Arab extremists and guerrillas sympathetic to the former regime of Saddam Hussein. (Full story)

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Italy would not be intimidated by the bombing and called on the country to unite as opposition parties said Italian troops should come home. (Full story)

"If there is ever a day when controversy should be silenced, and when all Italian citizens should show solidarity with those who have taken on the lofty task of defending the values of our democracy, then this is the day,'' Berlusconi told the Senate.

Italian Defence Minister Antonio Martino told the same sitting of the Senate that evidence shows Saddam loyalists were behind the blast.

"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," Martino said.

About 3,000 Italian forces are in Iraq, including about 400 Carbinieri, who are mainly involved in police operations.

People run from headquarters of Italy's paramilitary police after explosion in Nasiriyah
People run from headquarters of Italy's paramilitary police after explosion in Nasiriyah

The Italian soldiers are under British command in Iraq, CNN Rome Bureau Chief Alessio Vinci said. The contingent attacked Wednesday arrived in Iraq only a month ago.

Italian media are reporting that while the Italians have been mainly welcomed in Iraq, the bombing could act as a wake-up call and may come as a "surprise" to some, Vinci said.

Wednesday's bombing came as a CIA assessment warned the security situation will worsen across Iraq, not just in Baghdad but in the north and south as well, a senior administration source told CNN. (Full story)

It was not immediately clear if the assessment prompted Iraq civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer to make a hastily arranged trip to Washington. Bremer met Tuesday at the White House with U.S. President George W. Bush and senior national security officials.

Coalition fires on council vehicle

Also Wednesday, coalition forces opened fire at a vehicle carrying Iraqi Governing Council member Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum near a heavily secured area of Baghdad, according to sources within the governing council.

The sources said there appeared to be a miscommunication between coalition soldiers guarding a security gate outside Baghdad's "Green Zone" and the occupants of the car, resulting in the gunfire.

One person in the car -- not al-Ulum -- was wounded in the shooting, the sources said. CNN later saw a large amount of blood in al-Ulum's car after it dropped him off for a council meeting. He appeared to be uninjured when he went into the meeting.

Other developments

• Late Tuesday, a roadside bomb hit a U.S. military convoy near Baghdad, killing one U.S. soldier, according to a military spokeswoman. There were no other casualties in the attack. The soldier, a member of Taskforce Iron Horse, was on combat patrol west of Taji, just north of Baghdad around 11 p.m. (2000 GMT), she said.

• A 1st Armored Division soldier was killed and two others wounded in a bomb attack in Baghdad Tuesday, coalition officials said. In a statement issued Wednesday, the coalition said the improvised explosive device attack took place at 4 p.m. (1300 GMT). The soldier was pronounced dead at 9 p.m. at the 28th Combat Support Hospital. The wounded soldiers were taken to the 47th Combat Support Hospital for treatment.

• U.S. forces have detained 36 suspects near Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit in connection with the downing of a Black Hawk helicopter last Friday, in which all six U.S. military personnel on board died, according to military sources within the 4th Infantry Division. Acting on information from local Iraqis, some 200 U.S. forces launched four overnight raids. Among the suspects being held is the man suspected of shooting down the Black Hawk, the sources said.

CNN's Andrea Koppel, Dana Bash, Alessio Vinci, Hada Messia and Pelin Sidki contributed to this report

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