Bomb targets convoy, 4 killed

By Maria Sanminiatelli The Associated Press

ROME – A bomb blast rocked an Italian convoy on a road in southern Iraq yesterday, killing four people – three Italian soldiers and one from Romania, the Defense Ministry said.

An officer with the Carabinieri was seriously wounded and was taken to a U.S. hospital about 93 miles from Kuwait City, Defense Minister Antonio Martino said.

The roadside bomb targeted a four-vehicle convoy carrying 17 troops to relieve those at the local Iraqi police station in the city of Nasiriyah.

Romano Prodi, who will head the next Italian government, said he had no plans to speed up Italy’s withdrawal because of the bombing. Prodi had opposed the war and has pledged to bring Italian troops home by the end of the year.

“Our position is not changed,” Prodi said at a news conference at his coalition’s headquarters. “We’ve discussed it with the whole coalition.”

Prodi’s extreme left coalition allies seized on the news to criticize Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s decision to send troops to Iraq and to demand a quicker withdrawal.

“Today’s attack that caused the deaths of Italian soldiers is an additional loss that Berlusconi’s wicked choice to stand by his friend Bush brings today to our country,” Communist lawmaker Marco Rizzo was quoted as saying by the Apcom news agency.

Prodi said Italy would stay the course in Iraq.

“We won’t fly away,” he said. “Of course we shall work in Iraq for peace in order to help reconstruction.”

Prodi appeared to be referring to plans for the Italian military contingent to be replaced in Iraq by a civilian force.

Italy already has begun withdrawing troops under Berlusconi, who also was prepared to end the Italian participation in the multinational force this year.

Berlusconi said he was “profoundly grieved” by the deaths.

Pope Benedict XVI said in a message to the Italian Foreign Ministry that he felt “great grief” for the deaths of soldiers “who were in Iraq to give a generous and selfless contribution toward that country’s peace and freedom,” the Vatican’s foreign minister, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, told Vatican Radio. Lajolo called the attack a “violent act” that could not be justified or excused.

The Italian Defense Ministry identified the slain Italians as Nicola Ciardelli, 33, a paratrooper with the Italian Army; and Franco Lattanzio and Carlo De Trizio, warrant officers with the Carabinieri paramilitary police.

Romania’s Defense Ministry confirmed the death of the Romanian soldier, the country’s first combat casualty in Iraq. It identified the soldier as Cpl. Bogdan Hancu, a 28-year-old military policeman from the eastern city of Iasi based at Camp Mittica near Nasiriyah. Romania has 860 troops in the country as part of the multinational force.

The Romanian Foreign Affairs Ministry condemned “the terrorist attack in Nasiriyah” and expressed its condolences to Hancu’s family.

As of April 7, more than 2,600 Italian troops were stationed in Nasiriyah, according to the Italian Defense Ministry.