Iraq: November 12, 2003


: Suicide truck bombers attacked the Italian compound in Nasiriyah. The Italians lost 12 Carabinieri policemen killed, along with four soldiers and two civilians, while eight Iraqis died. The blast also wounded about 80 people, 20 of them Italians. The attack was the worst combat loss for Italy since World War II and its first in the Iraq campaign.

As part of the Italians' approach to the Iraqi population, the station was poorly protected, with only a few rolls of barbed wire and sandbagged positions (and none of the blast walls now popular in Baghdad). Local witnesses claimed that a decoy car ran the roadblock in front of a square where the Italian barracks were located. Guards opened fire but the vehicle apparently supervising the operation hastily sped away as a fuel tanker approached from the opposite direction and rammed into the gate of the building (or a nearby water tanker) before exploding.

Italian Defense Minister Antonio Martino's version was that the fuel tanker, followed by an armored car, approached the compound at high speed. Gunmen inside one of the vehicles opened fire at Italian troops guarding the entrance and while guards returned fire, the vehicle plowed through the gate and exploded.

No matter what the exact tactics were, the result was impressive. The front of the building was ripped away and the compound's walls flattened, leaving a crater about 10 foot wide. Flames then reached the Carabinieri armory and triggered secondary explosions amongst the ammunition stored there, reducing the barracks to rubble. A number of people were feared to be buried under the rubble of the collapsed building and casualty count would almost inevitably rise.

Why the Shiite city of Nasiriyah, a town in the relatively quiet south? About 340 Carabinieri were based in Nasiriyah, along with 110 Romanians, under British control. The attack on Allied troops in a reasonably quiet sector was blamed on Saddam Hussein loyalists and Al-Qaeda terrorists. Nasiriyah was also the same town where the 507th Maintenance Company was ambushed, so the recent flurry of media worship around PFC Jessica Lynch might also have influenced the attacker's thinking.

There are two primary goals that the "usual suspects" in Iraq had with this attack: they want alarmists to perceive this attack as an indicator that their reach has spread from the "Sunni Triangle" and they also want to drive a wedge between Coalition allies. 

The attack has already caused predictable secondary effects among the weaker members. The Japanese, claiming that the security situation was not yet stable enough, decided to postpone their dispatch of troops to that country until sometime next year. Japan had been planning to send troops to southern Iraq because it was deemed safer there than in other parts of the country. Portugal, showing a little more backbone, decided to send 128 elite police officers originally slated for Nasiriyah to Basra instead. 

But even after suffering such a hard hit, Italy's conservative Premier Silvio Berlusconi said immediately after the attack that his country would not be intimidated and reaffirmed Italy's engagement in Iraq. - Adam Geibel




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