The remains of 18 Italians killed in Iraq arrived home Saturday in advance of a state funeral as the nation continued to mourn its worst military losses since World War II.
Prime Minister 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 of them reciting prayers, others wiping tears. Those killed included two civilians.
More than 30 people died in Wednesday's bombing in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah, and the Italian toll reached 19 on Saturday. A soldier who had been brain-dead from his injuries, 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 the soldier was being treated and decided to stop life support, a Western diplomat in Kuwait said. His body was to return to Italy on Monday.
During an audience Saturday, Pope John Paul II greeted the widow and child of one of the slain Carabinieri officers, Giuseppe Coletta. The pope blessed the woman, Margherita Coletta, as well as the toddler.
The victims' caskets will lie Monday at the Vittorio Emanuele monument in central Rome. The next day, the funerals, to be broadcast live on national TV, will be held at a Rome basilica.
Tuesday has been declared a national day of mourning. The Colosseum will turn off its lights, schools will observe a minute of silence, shops will close briefly, workers will pause for 10 minutes, and movie theaters will keep their marquees dark.