US occupying administrator for Iraq Paul Bremer was heading back to Baghdad on Thursday with White House orders to speed up the transition process towards self-rule in Iraq, as the toll mounts from an attack on an Italian base.

Bremer held two days of talks with President George Bush and his top foreign policy aides in Washington, amid growing concern over increasing resistance attacks.

“I have made proposals to transfer more authority to the Iraqi Governing Council. And that is the backdrop for all these discussions,” said Bremer before talks with Bush and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

However, the US administrator for Iraq gave little details of the proposals. But US officials, on condition of anonymity, said Washington had been frustrated with the pace of the US-appointed Council’s work and was looking for alternate ways to hand power back to Iraqis.

One possibility was creating an Iraqi legislative body and that Washington was considering whether to hold elections even before a constitution was drafted, said a senior defence official who asked not to be named.

New position?

Washington insists that there can be no legitimate Iraqi authority until a constitution is drafted. But it is unclear if it is changing its position.

“Just like you have to adapt and adjust on the security front to meet the enemy, you need to be willing to adjust and adapt to circumstances on the ground, in terms of reconstruction and in terms of the political front,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

Instability mounts as toll in attack
on Italian troops rises to 18

The new sense of urgency in the US administration is seen by some US circles as a reaction to the mounting casualties among the 132,000 occupation forces serving in Iraq.

Bremer defended the Council, which faces a 15 December deadline to establish a timetable for drafting a constitution in the post-Saddam Hussein era and holding elections.

US officials said late on Wednesday that the CIA station in Iraq rushed its report to Washington before Bremer’s visit, warning that resistance could mount even more in coming months as Iraqis grew more frustrated.

Toll rises

Meanwhile, the toll in the attack against an Italian military base in the Iraqi city of al-Nasiriya went up to 28, when an Italian soldier died of his injuries.

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.

A total of 375 people were injured, Marina Katina, a spokeswoman for Italian Embassy in Baghdad, told Aljazeera.

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.

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