Along with Italian soldiers, nine Iraqis were also killed in Wednesday's attack. The carnage was caused when two people rammed a tanker-truck laden with explosives into the Italian base.
  
At al-Nasiriya's general hospital, director and doctor Khudair Hasbar said 84 Iraqis were wounded, 11 seriously, including a three-month-old baby and a one-year-old who lost his nose and one eye. Twenty-one Italians were also wounded.

“Italian forces have taken the three-month-old to their hospital at the airport and the one-year-old has been transferred to Baghdad," he added after the deadliest attack on occupation forces in Iraq since fighting was declared over on 1 May.

The attack, which registered the greatest military loss for Rome since World War II, prompted a rushed visit by Italian Defence Minister, Antonio Martino, on Thursday to the city.

It was Rome's worst military loss
since World War II

Under tight security, Martino toured the demolished base after arriving by helicopter.

Martino said the "same hand" behind the 11 September, 2001 attacks had struck Rome base in Iraq. 

"It reminded me that slightly over a month ago, I was in New York City at Ground Zero and I was struck by the similarity of
the impression," he said, referring to the destruction of the World Trade Center in the plane attacks.

Italy has the third-largest occupation presence in the country after the US military force of 130,000 troops in Iraq and Britain's 9900 soldiers. Wednesday’s strike was the first severe attack against Rome’s troops since their deployment in June.

Occupation deaths mounting

Meanwhile, an American soldier was killed in a roadside bomb attack in Baghdad, said an occupation spokesman.

The bomb struck a passing Humvee in the capital on Wednesday, wounding a second solider.

The latest death brings to at least 156 the number of US soldiers killed in action in Iraq since President George Bush declared an end to major combat on 1 May.

The attack in al-Nasiriya served a severe blow to Washington’s efforts to recruit international forces to join the occupation.

In other news, US occupation officials claimed they killed six Iraqi resistance fighters in the tense town of Falluja, as they fought off an attack on the American military base and a Jordanian hospital.

The Central Command said in a statement late on Wednesday that Tuesday's battle erupted when occupation troops came under automatic weapon fire.

However, relatives of five civilians killed said US troops opened fire on them as they returned from buying chickens.