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Berlusconi defiant over Iraq

Silvio Berlusconi
Berlusconi: Committed to "security and freedom" for Iraq

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Should Italy withdraw its soldiers and police from Iraq after Wednesday's attack?
Silvio Berlusconi

ROME, Italy -- Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi says his country will not be intimidated in the wake of a deadly attack on an Italian police compound in Iraq.

"No intimidation will budge us from our willingness to help that country rise up again and rebuild itself with self-government, security and freedom," Berlusconi said in a statement.

"Pain is at this time a feeling shared by the entire nation. But we also feel pride for the courage and humanity with which our troops ... have worked and still work to make the situation tolerable for children, women, the elderly and the weak who live in that martyred region."

Eighteen Italians and eight Iraqis died after a bomb tore through Italy's military police headquarters in Nasiriya on Wednesday.

Flags were lowered to half-mast across Italy and the Italian Senate observed a minute of silence.

Speaking later to the Senate, Berlusconi expressed "deep pain for all of those who died because of a terrorist action during a humanitarian expedition for the Iraqis."

But he added that the attack in Nasiriyaa was "inevitable" given the recent rash of violence in the country.

Italian Defense Minister Antonio Martino blamed the suicide attack against the military police and army headquarters in Nasiriya on Arab extremists and guerrillas sympathetic to the former regime of Saddam Hussein.

Opposition leaders reacted to Wednesday's blast by demanding the withdrawal of Italian personnel.

Pope John Paul II said it was a "vile attack" and expressed his "most firm condemnation," Reuters reported.

"I express my firmest condemnation of this new act of violence that, added with other cruel gestures carried out in that tormented country, does not help pacification or renewal," the pope said in a message to Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

Ciampi said the attack would not change Italy's resolve to fight terrorism.

About 3,000 Italians are in Iraq, under British command, as part of the U.S.-led coalition. The Italian military police are part of the army serving with a dual role.

Pietro Folena from the main opposition party, the Democrats, said it was time for Italians to pull out of Iraq -- a demand backed by other opposition parties, Reuters reported.

"They were sent to an Iraq in flames because the government wanted to do a favor for the Bush administration without taking risks into consideration," he said.

"Now the Italian soldiers must come home. It is the only right thing to do at this moment."

Wednesday's bombing came as a CIA assessment warned the security situation will worsen across Iraq, not just in Baghdad but in the north and south as well, a senior administration source told CNN. (Full story)

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