Roadside bomb kills three Italian soldiers as violence continues

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The Independent Online

Three Italians and one Romanian soldier were killed in Iraq yesterday in a roadside bombing and the sister of the country's new vice-president was assassinated in a drive-by shooting.

The deaths took place as Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, and Donald Rumsfeld, the Defense Secretary, ended a two-day visit to Iraq by praising "progress being made towards stability".

The four soldiers were killed on a road in Nasiriyah, in southern Iraq, their governments said. It was Romania's first combat death of the Iraq conflict.

Mayson Ahmed Bakir al-Hashimi, 60, sister of Tariq al-Hashimi, the Vice-President, and her bodyguard were killed by gunmen in a BMW car as she left her home in south-west Baghdad.

Earlier in the week Mr Hashimi, a Sunni, called for Iraq's insurgency to be put down by force and shrugged off threats made in a videotape this week by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the militant leader, who denounced the new government as American "stooges".

On 13 April, the Vice-President's brother, Mahmoud al-Hashimi, was shot dead while driving through a Shia area in eastern Baghdad. Four days later, the brother of another leading Sunni politician, Saleh al-Mutlaq, was found dead in Baghdad after he was kidnapped.

Under Silvio Berlusconi's government, Italy deployed some 3,000 troops in Iraq, the fourth largest foreign contingent there, despite widespread domestic opposition to the war. Romano Prodi, who will head the new Italian government, has said he will bring home the Italian contingent in Iraq only after consulting coalition partners.