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Last Updated: Monday, 17 May, 2004, 11:14 GMT 12:14 UK
Italian killed in Iraq fighting
Italian soldier guards attack site in November
Nineteen Italian troops were killed in November
An Italian soldier has been killed in escalating clashes with Shia militia in the Iraqi town of Nasiriya.

Attacks over the past few days have forced the Italians to abandon their base and withdraw to a main camp 10km (six miles) from the town.

At least nine others were injured in fighting with the rebels, believed to be loyal to Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr.

Matteo Vanzan was the 20th member of the Italian forces to die in Iraq - a bomb killed 19 in Nasiriya in November.

Italy has about 3,000 troops in Iraq. They were deployed after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime and have been based in the southern part of the country to help reconstruction.

There have been regular clashes between Italian forces and insurgents.

The latest round of fighting broke out on Friday, apparently after Mr Sadr called on his faithful to rise up against foreign forces.

Corporal Vanzan, 23, from Veneto, was injured during a mortar attack on the Libeccio base of the Carabinieri paramilitary police, near one of the key bridges over the Euphrates.

'Unpredictable'

A spokesman for the Italian military in Nasiriya said the situation was "extremely unpredictable".

"We can't be sure what's going to happen from one minute to the next," he said.

"We're doing everything we can to suppress the militia threat, but we have to be very careful because they are hiding out among civilians. We don't want innocent people to be killed in the crossfire."

On Sunday, the head of the Italian force in Iraq, General Gian Marco Chiarini, said militia were trying to take control of the city but insisted the Italians were still in control.

Corporal Vanzan's death on Sunday comes as debate in Italy is increasing over the continued presence of Italian troops in Iraq.

Some opposition parties have called for their withdrawal or greater involvement of UN troops.

But Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has suggested that the Italian contingent may remain after the 30 June transfer of sovereignty to an Iraqi government.




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