ROME -- The remains of 18 Italians killed in Iraq arrived home yesterday for a painful few days of mourning before a state funeral -- a solemn tribute that was testimony to Italy's sense of loss over its worst military disaster since World War II.
Premier Silvio Berlusconi, top military and political officials, and relatives of the dead stood on the rain-slicked tarmac of Rome's Ciampino military airport as the coffins draped in Italy's red, white, and green flag emerged from a C-130 transport plane one by one.
A bugler played Taps, but otherwise there was silence as the coffins were carried slowly across the tarmac on the shoulders of carabinieri, navy, and army officers in front of an 89-member military honor guard.
Family members led by a priest trailed the procession, some reciting prayers, others wiping tears away.
"It's a day of grieving and pain. There's nothing else to say," said one carabiniere, Alessandro Di Gruttola.
The toll from Wednesday's attack in the southern city of Nasiriyah reached 19 yesterday when a brain-dead soldier, Pietro Petrucci, 22, was pronounced dead in Kuwait after his life support system was discontinued.
Petrucci's parents and two brothers had traveled to Kuwait, where Petrucci was being treated, and decided to stop life support, a Western diplomat in Kuwait said. His body was to return to Italy tomorrow.
The deaths of the 19 Italians -- 12 carabinieri, five army soldiers, and two civilians -- have stunned Italy and created a groundswell of pride in the work the Italian troops were trying to do to help rebuild Iraq.
The attack was the worst Italian military disaster since World War II, and caused the country's first deaths during the deployment in Iraq. Fourteen non-Italians were also killed, while more than 80 were wounded.
State-run RAI television and other Italian networks interrupted their regular programming to broadcast the plane's arrival live. TV anchors filled the airtime by giving brief biographies of each one of the victims.
Italian television also broadcast images of the farewell ceremony in Iraq at which the coffins were blessed by a priest and carried into the belly of the C-130.