In Baghdad, witnesses told Aljazeera correspondents that 10 rockets were fired in the al-Dura district of the city. They said gunfire followed the blasts.

It is believed that two resistance fighters were killed and three wounded following a US-led 'military operation' aimed at rooting out individuals responsible for an increase in attacks against US occupation soldiers.

At least five people have been arrested by the army during the operation.

The US military said a 'military operation' was being carried out against 'known guerillas' who they claim were responsible for attacks against US troops.

The spokesperson confirmed that the 'operation' was being carried out against a ''known facility used as a meeting, planning point for guerillas. Its destruction will deny enemy forces use of it in the future'', he said

The blasts on Wednesday night came at the end of one of the worst days for the occupation forces in Iraq.

Nine Iraqi civilians and 18 Italian military police were killed when two vehicles packed with explosives crashed into the headquarters of the Italian military police in the southern city of al-Nasiriya on Wednesday morning.

After the explosion, fire engulfed several vehicles in a courtyard and an ammunition dump, according to a spokesman for the occupation authorities.

The commander of the Italian troops in the city was quoted by the Italian news agency ANSA as saying that four suicide bombers in two vehicles packed with 150-300kg of explosives crashed into the building.

Berlusconi determined

Despite the attack, Rome is determined its forces will remain in Iraq, said Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

This is the first major strike against
Italian troops in Iraq

"No intimidation will change our desire to help this country to rebuild and form a government, in security and freedom," he said.

Italy has about 2500 troops in Iraq, based mainly in al-Nasiriya.
  
The Italian mission includes ground troops, members of the air force, the police and Red Cross, along with three naval ships. 

Wednesday's deaths were the first Italian casualties since they joined the US-led occupation in Iraq in June.

Opposition unhappy

Members of several Italian opposition parties demanded that the government should withdraw its troops from Iraq following the blast.   

"They were sent to an Iraq in flames because the government wanted to do a favour for the Bush administration without taking risks into consideration," said Pietro Folena of the main opposition party, the Democrats of the Left.

"The bombing was a vile attack against a mission of peace"

Pope John Paul II

"Now the Italian soldiers must come home. It is the only right thing to do at this moment." Members of other opposition parties made similar demands.

Pope John Paul II said the bombing was a "vile attack" against what he said was a mission of peace.

Elsewhere in Iraq, a number of Ukrainian soldiers were wounded when their convoy came under an unidentified sniper attack in al-Aziziyah city in Wasit province. Ukrainian soldiers opened fire on the source of the attack, but no casualties had been reported.

US soldiers killed

Meanwhile, two US soldiers were killed in separate attacks late on Tuesday in the capital and north of Baghdad, reported military officials.

At least 155 US soldiers have been killed since US President George Bush declared an end to hostilities on 1 May.

In other news, US troops opened fire on a truck carrying live chickens near the tense town of Falluja, killing five civilians aboard the vehicle, including a father and his two sons, relatives said on Wednesday.

The shooting took place at a roadblock on Tuesday night, they said.

On Wednesday, reporters saw US troops delivering one body from an Army ambulance to waiting families. In the morgue, reporters saw several bodies with what appeared to be gunshot wounds.