The Coalition that invaded Iraq in the second Gulf war included a small contingent of Italian soldiers (3000 troops all told, with 400 Carabinieri among them).

Their operation had been codenamed "Ancient Babylon", and involved mostly police duties in the Nasiriya area (due to a translation quirk, the Italian spelling is Nassiriya, with two "s").

The place was relatively quiet, compared to the daily attacks near Baghdad, but in the morning of November 12, 2003 a suicide attack blasted a base nicknamed "Animal House", destroying the buildings that used to host the local Chamber of Commerce.

A truck carrying 150/300 Kg of explosive was stopped by gunfire from the sentries near the external defence perimeter, but the force of the blast was more than enough to collapse a building, start several fires (one in the ammo deposit) and dig a crater more than two meters deep.

The attack claimed the lives of twelve Carbinieri, five members of the Army, two Italian civilians and nine Iraqis (four of them were children):

Arma dei Carabinieri

  • Domenico Intravaia
  • Orazio Majorana, the youngest (29)
  • Giuseppe Coletta
  • Giovanni Cavallaro, aka "Serpico"
  • Alfio Ragazzi, was bound to come home in the next few days
  • Ivan Ghitti, had been involved in three peacekeeping operations in Bosnia
  • Daniele Ghione
  • Enzo Fregosi, he is the oldest (56); one of his sons is a Carabiniere
  • Alfonso Trincone
  • Massimiliano Bruno
  • Andrea Filippa
  • Filippo Merlino

Esercito Italiano

  • Massimo Ficuciello, he was the son of a general
  • Silvio Olla
  • Emanuele Ferraro
  • Alessandro Carrisi
  • {unknown, can anyone /msg me?} critically wounded, he was declared dead the next day


  • Stefano Rolla, art director, he was checking the locations for a documentary
  • Marco Beci

Some additional information, to provide a background to this event:

  • All the military forces involved in operations outside Italy are composed of volunteers.

  • Despite repeated warnings - one by Osama Bin Laden himself - that Italian troops would be attacked for joining the Coalition, the Italian public was quite shocked when they realized that the guerrilla considered the base a military target. It was widely believed that the Italian troops would be as welcome in Iraq as they had been in Bosnia, Somalia and countless other war-torn countries.

  • Many people called 112 (the Carabinieri equivalent of 911) to express condolences. 112 is supposed to be an emergency-only number.

  • The wake for the fallen, held in Rome in the Vittoriano, drew thousands of people. A few months earlier, a couple of protestors unfurled a huge banner in front of the same monument; it depicted the Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi wearing a U.S. Army helmet. The caption was "A tangible promise: war", mocking the slogans used for his election.

  • The vast majority of Italians opposed the invasion of Iraq, hanging multicolored "peace" flags from their balconies.

  • The area of the attack was cordoned off after the blast, but a few days later the sentinels were removed. Hundreds of Iraqis looted the collapsed building, stealing everything they could carry. Many of the looters were children.

  • Many political commentators were surprised by the restrained reaction of the parties opposed to the PM Silvio Berlusconi. Other less tragic events had already prompted calls for his resignation.

I do hope that the E2 message "all of Italian casualties in Iraq, no other writeups in this node" holds true.

(February 2004 update: it seems that the opposing parties were just biding their time. Now that the election heat is being turned on, everybody seems to remember the Nassiriya deaths. The worst slogan so far is "our PM didn't go to Iraq to honour the fallen: he went to get a facelift". Even if both facts are regrettably true, on the whole it shows poor taste).

(March 2005 update:)

  • Matteo Vanzan died on May 17, 2004. My hometown entitled a square to him. After less than a year my friends are hard pressed to remember the story behind "Vanzan square".
  • Antonio Tarantino died in a car accident on July 5, 2004.
  • Simone Cola was killed on January 21, 2005. News outlet kept repeating that he was shot during a peace mission, while he was manning the machine gun of a helicopter.
  • Nicola Calipari was killed on March 5, 2005. He had just freed a kidnapped Italian journalist, Giuliana Sgrena. He was shot by American soldiers near a checkpoint; he shielded the journalist with his body, Mrs. Sgrena got away with minor wounds. The CNN wrote that "(American troops) attempted to warn the driver to stop by hand and arm signals, flashing white lights, and firing warning shots in front of the car". You are free to believe that. (noded in anger.)

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