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Last Updated: Saturday, 15 November, 2003, 20:03 GMT
Italy brings home Iraq war dead
Italian troops carry coffins to aircraft
Nineteen troops died in the attack
The bodies of 18 Italian soldiers and policemen killed in a bomb blast in southern Iraq have been brought back to the capital Rome.

They were given full military honours after returning on a Hercules C-130 transport plane from Iraq.

The coffins will lie in state at a monument in Rome until Tuesday's state funeral and a national day of mourning.

Their return follows that of policemen wounded in the suicide bomb attack in Nasiriya on Wednesday.

A total of 19 troops died in the attack.

The body of the last victim, who died earlier on Saturday after his life support machine was switched off, is expected to return before Monday.


The tricolour-draped coffins of the victims were carried off the plane by black-uniformed Carabinieri as a bugler played the Last Post and relatives comforted each other.

A priest then blessed the coffins and they were carried past an honour guard.

Wounded Italians giving news conference
The wounded returned on Friday
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, accompanied by the foreign and defence ministers and military chiefs, attended the ceremony.

The coffins were then carried to a fleet of hearses which took them under police guard to a clinic for formal identification by relatives.

In a speech earlier, Mr Berlusconi said he did not initially support a US-led invasion of Iraq.

"But when I saw there was no way (to prevent it), I stood by the United States," he added

Mr Berlusconi - while supporting the intervention in Iraq - did not send combat soldiers, but contributed troops after the fall of Baghdad to help in the reconstruction.


Earlier, senior military officials greeted 20 wounded Italians - 17 injured in the blast and three hurt elsewhere while serving in Iraq - on their arrival at Rome airport.

Attack scene
The attack was deadliest against Italian forces since World War II
One survivor limped off the plane on crutches. Others appeared with bandages on their faces, or were loaded into ambulances.

Meanwhile, a fresh contingent of 75 carabinieri left by air from a secret location in northern Italy, bound for Iraq.

Military sources said the men were due to leave as part of normal rotation plans, but their departure confirmed the government's intention to maintain a full Italian presence in Iraq despite the attack.

Some 2,400 Italian soldiers are carrying out mine-clearing, policing and humanitarian work in southern Iraq which is under the overall military control of the British.

Italians form the third largest force within the Iraq coalition, after the Americans and the British.

Italy shocked at soldiers' attack
12 Nov 03  |  Middle East
Italy blames al-Qaeda for blast
13 Nov 03  |  Middle East
Italy vows to stay course in Iraq
13 Nov 03  |  Middle East
Italian soldier's last letter home
13 Nov 03  |  Middle East
In pictures: Nasiriya blast
18 Nov 03  |  Photo Gallery
Newspapers echo Italy's shock
13 Nov 03  |  Europe

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