updated 12/1/2006 11:29:23 AM ET 2006-12-01T16:29:23

Italy pulled its last remaining troops out of Iraq on Friday, lowering the tricolor flag at its base in the south of a country where 32 of its soldiers have died since the contingent arrived in June 2003.

Defense Minister Arturo Parisi read out the names of each of the Italian fallen, including secret serviceman Nicola Calipari who was shot dead by U.S. soldiers in March 2005 as he escorted a freed hostage to Baghdad airport.

“Your sacrifice has not been in vain,” Parisi said of the military dead. “We will always remember you.”

Under former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, a close ally of President Bush, Italy deployed the fourth largest contingent in the “coalition of the willing” in Iraq, around 3,000 soldiers, based in the south of the country.

But the mission was widely unpopular in Italy and opposition leader Romano Prodi said if elected he would pull the troops out by the end of the year. Prodi won a close-run election in April.

Italy, which had only 44 soldiers remaining in Nassiriya on Friday, hands control of the area to Australian troops.

“We have rendered Dhi Qar province more stable and secure,” Gen. Carmine De Pascale said. “The authorities are holding and socio-economic conditions have improved visibly.”

In November 2003, 17 Italian military and two Italian civilians were killed by a suicide attack using a fuel tanker at their base, an incident that turned public opinion in Italy even more against the country’s involvement in the war.

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.

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