"Several mortar shells fell about 50m from the embassy but there were no Italian victims," Italy's Defence Minister Antonio Martino said in Rome on Thursday.

 

"We don't know if there were Iraqi victims."

  

Martino added: "Our intelligence services have for some time been passing us information that an attack against the embassy may be possible. This time there was no harm done."

  

Italy has 3000 military personnel in Iraq based in the area around the southern town of Nasiriya.

 

Demands

  

Following the attack, several members of the Italian opposition again called for Italian troops to be pulled out of Iraq.

 

Iraqi guardsmen were hurt in an
explosion in Mosul on Thursday

Martino did not respond to the opposition's requests. However, he did deny reports that appeared in the Italian military journal, Analisi difesa, that four Mangusta attack helicopters had been sent to Iraq to boost the Italian contingent before elections there in January.

  

"The Mangustas have not been sent to Iraq and there are no plans to send them," he said.

  

The A-129 Mangusta is an Italian combat helicopter equipped with anti-tank missiles and a 20mm machinegun.

 

Mosul attacks

 

In other incidents, six Iraqi guardsmen and 10 civilians were wounded in two bomb attacks in the northern city of Mosul, police said.

 

A bomb concealed in a motorcycle side-car exploded at around 2pm (1100 GMT) on Thursday at the Yarmuk roundabout in the centre of Iraq's third city, targeting US and Iraqi soldiers, Lieutenant Bassam Salim said.

 

Earlier, 10 Iraqis were wounded when a car bomb exploded close to a US convoy in Mosul, the US military said.

 

"A car bomb attack occurred at around 10am. Ten Iraqi civilians were wounded," Lieutenant-Colonel Hastings said. "A US forces convoy was in the vicinity but there was no damage or [American] injuries."

 

Elsewhere, five Iraqis were killed and two others injured by US fire, Aljazeera learned. The incident took place in the Abu Ghraib area, west of Baghdad, on Thursday morning after US forces came under separate attacks by unknown fighters.

  

New alliance

 

Meanwhile, an Iraqi Shia group has unveiled a broad-based coalition to contest the poll, with backing from some Sunni and Kurdish groups as well.

 

Attacks have continued across
Iraq with elections weeks away

Calling itself the United Iraqi Alliance, the coalition brings together 22 parties, groups and movements, mostly representing Iraq's Shia population but also drawing support from other points on the religious spectrum.

 

The list has been formed under the auspices of the country's most influential Shia cleric, Ayat Allah Ali al-Sistani, and is likely to be the most powerful political bloc to stand in the first post-Saddam Hussein elections, scheduled for 30 January.

 

"This is a united list, representing all Iraqis, not just Shia," Husayn al-Shahristani, a former nuclear scientist jailed by Saddam who was instrumental in building up the coalition over the past two months, said on Thursday.

 

The leading groups on the slate are the two main Shia religious parties - the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and Dawa - while Ahmad Chalabi, a former US favourite who heads the Iraqi National Congress, also has a prominent role.

 

Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr's spokesman Hasan al-Zarqani told Aljazeera from Lebanon that the movement was still discussing whether to submit an independent electoral list separate from the one backed by al-Sistani.

 

But he made it clear that the movement would neither boycott the election nor prevent anyone from voting.