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NASIRIYAH, Iraq (AP) -- A suicide truck bomber attacked the headquarters of Italy's paramilitary police in this southern city on Wednesday, killing 25 people -- including 17 Italians -- and possibly trapping others in the debris.
It was the deadliest toll suffered by non-American coalition forces since the occupation began in April, and the first such attack in Nasiriyah, a relatively quiet Shiite Muslim city. The bombing appeared aimed at sending a message that international organizations are not safe anywhere in Iraq.
Col. Gianfranco Scalas said 17 Italians were killed: 11 Carabinieri paramilitary police, four army soldiers, an Italian civilian working at the base and an Italian documentary filmmaker. A spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition said at least eight Iraqis were also killed. About 15 people were wounded, although their nationalities were not known, Italian officials said.
"Unfortunately, it's not possible to exclude the presence of other fatalities," Defense Minister Antonio Martino told parliament.
There were fears of others trapped beneath the debris, and bulldozers worked to clear rubble. As night fell, however, soldiers said rescue efforts had ended.
Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi called the bombing a "terrorist act," while Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi pledged that it wouldn't derail his country's commitment to helping Iraq.
Witnesses said the truck driver got past guards after a car ran a roadblock, distracting the sentries.
The truck rammed the gate of the Italian compound and exploded in front of the Carabinieri building, which was the former chamber of commerce building, a coalition spokesman, Andrea Angeli, said.
He said the force of the explosion blew out windows in another building across the Euphrates River. All the vehicles parked outside the stricken building exploded in flames.
Angeli said secondary explosions from ammunition stored in the compound rocked the area moments after the main blast.
Also Wednesday, U.S. troops in Baghdad accidentally fired on a car carrying a member of the Iraqi Governing Council. The council member, Mohammed Bahr al-Uloun, escaped injury but the driver was wounded.
And a roadblock in Fallujah, a restive city west of the capital, U.S. troops fired on a truck carrying live chickens Tuesday night, killing five civilians.
"They went to bring chickens ... and they came back at 9 or 10 at night and we were waiting for them," said Khalid Khalifa al-Jumaily, whose two nephews were killed on the truck. "The Americans fired on them."
The U.S. military said it no immediate information on the shootings.
In separate attacks, an American soldier was killed when a roadside bomb exploded near a U.S. patrol by the town of Taji northwest of Baghdad, the U.S. military said. A 1st Armored Division soldier died of wounds suffered in a roadside bombing in Baghdad on Tuesday.
Their deaths bring to 153 the number of soldiers killed by hostile fire since President Bush declared an end to active combat May 1.
The truck bomb in Nasiriyah, about 180 miles southeast of Baghdad, went off at about 10:40 a.m. in front of base of the Carabinieri's multinational specialist unit, the Italian paramilitary police said.
Italy has sent about 2,300 troops to help rebuild Iraq. About 340 Carabinieri are based in Nasiriyah, along with 110 Romanians.
Alice Moldovan, a spokeswoman for Romania's Defense Ministry, said there were no reports of Romanian victims.
Carabinieri are paramilitary police under the Defense Ministry, and frequently serve in international missions such as in Afghanistan and the Balkans.
Since August, car and truck bombs have targeted several international buildings in Baghdad, including the United Nations headquarters, the offices of the international Red Cross, the Al-Rasheed Hotel and the Turkish and Jordanian embassies.
Although Nasiriyah has been quiet in recent months, it was the scene of heavy fighting during the war. It was where the 507th Maintenance Company was ambushed in March and where a number of Americans were captured, including Jessica Lynch.
Italy had suffered no combat deaths during the occupation. The Italian official heading U.S. efforts to recover Iraq's looted antiquities, Pietro Cordone, was in a car that came under mistaken U.S. fire in September in northern Iraq. His Iraqi interpreter was killed.
Earlier Wednesday, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council said the body was not to blame for the lack of progress in drafting a constitution that would enable democratic elections and a return to Iraqi independence.
The comments by Mahmoud Othman, a Sunni Kurd member of the U.S.-appointed body, follow reports that Bush's national security advisers are frustrated by the council's performance and are consulting with Iraq's top American administrator, L. Paul Bremer, over how to break the deadlock.
"Such accusations are unreasonable and do no good for the country," Othman said. "The Governing Council should not alone bear the responsibility of any inefficiency."
Othman acknowledged the constitutional process was moving too slowly but said Iraq's U.S.-led administration bore much of the blame.
"This is supposed to be a partnership based on equality," Othman said in an interview. "But when Americans want to find solution for their problems, they do it in any way that suits them."
Bremer said Wednesday after meeting with administration officials in Washington that he believed the Iraqis were becoming "more and more effective in their assumption of authority."
"I don't think it's fair to say the IGC is failing," Bremer said.
Bremer attended a White House meeting Tuesday with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and other key officials.
Administration officials expressed disappointment in the council's work but said Bush was not about to disband it.
"The notion that we are about to throw the council to the wolves is exaggerated," a senior administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "But there is a need to put some energy into the political transition."
U.S. officials believe key members of the Iraqi council are stalling in hopes of winning concessions from American leaders under political pressure to turn over power to the Iraqis. In contrast, Bremer wants to transfer sovereignty after the Iraqis draft a constitution and hold national elections.
Othman denied members of the body were intentionally stalling work on the new charter in order to exert pressure on Bremer.
"It is true that council members are demanding more powers, but they are not trying to use the slowness in the process of work as a weapon to gain concessions," he said.
The Iraqis have yet to agree on how to choose delegates to draw up a constitution.
Also Wednesday, Iraqi police in Qadisiyah detained several people suspected of involvement in an apparent rocket attack that brought down a U.S. Black Hawk helicopter near Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit last week, killing six soldiers, a U.S. official said.
Before dawn, nearly the entire 500-member police force of Tikrit searched door-to-door in a dusty suburb looking for weapons and insurgents.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)