Operation Ancient Babylon

Multinational Specialized Unit Iraq War Nasiriyah
Operation Ancient Babylon
Part of Iraq War
Date15 July 2003 – 1 December 2006
Mostly Nasiriyah, Iraq
Result Italian Victory
 Italy Mahdi Army
Commanders and leaders
Commanders of Italian Army Muqtada al-Sadr
Aws al-Khafaji
3.200 soldiers total number of combatants is unknown but part of a total of 70.000 men
Casualties and losses
36 casualties about 5.000

Italian Army personnel depart Tallil Air Base, Iraq for an early morning convoy escort duty on 28 April 2005

Operation Ancient Babylon (Italian: Operazione Antica Babilonia) was the code name given to the deployment of Italian forces during the Iraq War. Their mission lasted from 15 July 2003 to 1 December 2006.[1] The troops were located in and around Nasiriyah.

Italy lost 36 soldiers during the mission, most of them in the 2003 Nasiriyah bombing against the Carabinieri Multinational Specialized Unit base.

Italian intervention

In March 2003, Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), or second Gulf War, began by a coalition composed mainly of British and US armies and other States. On 1 May 2003, the war is officially over, even though in fact foreign armies have never had full control of the territory, suffering serious losses inflicted by the Iraqi resistance and by terrorist attacks.

UN Resolution 1483 of 22 May 2003 approved by the United Nations Security Council calls on all states to contribute to the rebirth of Iraq, fostering the security of the Iraqi people and the development of the nation.

Italy participates through the "Ancient Babylon" mission by providing armed forces in the south of the country, with a main base in Nassiriya.

On 15 April 2003 the Chambers, through the approval of resolutions, authorized the Government to carry out a military mission in Iraq (called Ancient Babylon) for humanitarian purposes. The parliamentary authorization intervened even before the adoption of Resolution 1483 and in a phase in which the difficulty of control of the territory by the occupying authorities and the Iraqi authorities had not yet clearly emerged.

The Italian mission began on 15 July 2003 and is a military operation for the purposes of peacekeeping (maintenance and safeguarding of peace), which has the following objectives:

competition for the restoration of public infrastructures and the reactivation of essential services;

competition for public order;

Logistic operations before the battle for the bridges

Following the 12 November 2003 attack on the "Maestrale" base, the situation in Nassiriya of the Italian peace contingent changed, began to make itself felt more present in the province of Dhi Qar, an act not acceptable to the various hostile factions operating in the area, in the case of the faction of Muqtada al-Sadr and his army of the Mahdi, a group believed to be mainly involved in the attack on the carabinieri at the "Maestrale" base.[citation needed] At 4:00 am on 06/04/2004 the Italian land contingent, or three companies of the 11th Bersaglieri Regiment, a Regiment "Savoia Cavalleria" (3rd) company and various logistic components of the Ariete Armored Brigade, left the "White Horse" complex to go to guard the access bridges to Nassyriya: "Alpha", "Bravo", "Charlie".[citation needed] The units that were involved in this clash fought for 18 hours, the longest firefight that involved Italians since the Second World War, which is why the 11th Bersaglieri Regiment received the war cross for military valor, for the maneuvers carried out on the three bridges in those days of the Ancient Babylon III mission.[citation needed]

The battle for the bridges

In Nassiriya, a few months after the attack on 12 November 2003, from 6 April to the end of May 2004, several battles took place between the Italian troops and the Mahdi Army; the Italian military were engaged in the city in several clashes, in which over 30,000 bullets were fired, to control three bridges that allow the passage of the river, in which eleven gunmen were slightly injured; Iraqi casualties were heavy (out of 200), including a woman and two children, and as many injured. In Italy they are known generically as the Battle of the bridges of Nassiriya, even if we refer to three different episodes with clashes between hundreds of Italian soldiers on one side and similar or higher numbers of militiamen on the other; in particular, in the second battle that took place on the night of 6 April, about 500 Italian soldiers and a thousand militiamen were employed [2];the objective was originally made up of all three bridges, but given the gathering of women and children among the militiamen on the third bridge, the Italians did not take any action to cross it, remaining to guard only one bank [2]. For the occasion, called the Porta Pia operation, various companies from different departments were engaged, including the 11th bersaglieri regiment, a company from the San Marco battalion, a heavy armored squadron Centauro del Savoia cavalry, the GIS carabinieri and the paratroopers (carabinieri, but framed until 2002 in the Folgore Brigade) of the Tuscania regiment [2]. During the fight, the Italian military were also targeted with portable anti-tank rockets of which about 400 were counted, to which they responded with about 30,000 shots of small arms and some missiles, as well as some shots of the Centauro armored vehicles [2]; observers noted how the militiamen had taken several ambulances from hospitals and used them to transport ammunition to their outposts[2] .

The third battle took place from 5 to 6 August 2004, on the three bridges over the Euphrates, named Alfa, Bravo and Charlie (the first three letters of the NATO phonetic alphabet), to restore access to the city by supplies for the citizenship, forbidden by militiamen; the action was entrusted to a reinforced tactical group of the task force called Serenissima [3]. At the time the Libeccio base, which until the attack hosted the Italian operational presence in the city together with the Mistral base, had already been evacuated, but was re-occupied for the occasion by the 3rd company of the Lagunari who presided over it together with the Alfa bridge despite being targeted by mortar bombs and small arms during the approach [3].[3]. On the Italian side, thermal visors and illuminating grenades were used to precisely identify the starting points of the shots, in full residential area and therefore with risk for the population, together with two Mangusta helicopters that from above provided information and protection. This did not prevent an episode that was subsequently investigated by the military prosecutor and articles in the media: a vehicle, which tried to cross one of the bridges by forcing the Italian checkpoint on the opposite access to that of origin, was considered a car bomb and hit by the Italian military who garrisoned it and exploded catastrophically killing passengers including a pregnant woman [4]. According to a reconstruction, the investigation by the Italian military prosecutor found that the vehicle was an ambulance and the explosion was also due to an oxygen cylinder carried on it, but the military interrogated had previously denied having seen flashers and signals of rescue and claimed to have been subjected to gunfire [4]. Subsequently, another reconstruction cited documents published on Wikileaks that denied the use of firearms from the ambulance but confirmed that it had been transformed into a car bomb and that it did not stop at the checkpoint [5].

Overall, the battles led to the loss of the "Libeccio" logistics complex and the retreat of the Mahdi army from the city.

The participation of the Italian Navy

The Italian Navy deployed various ships including Minesweepers, Destroyers and the San Giorgio-class amphibious transport dock that covered the role of flagship. Furthermore, marines and sailors alongside naval pilots given support to ground operations.

The displacement

The Italian soldiers and the riflemen of the San Marco were deployed in the south Shiite Shi, a relatively quiet area compared to the provinces sunnite and to the capital Baghdad; the main seat of the contingent was the city of Nāsiriyya, the provincial capital of Dhi Qar, where the Italian Barbara Contini was placed by the provisional coalition authority (CPA) at Head of the civil administration in charge of reconstruction.

This did not prevent the Italian soldiers from being the subject of a suicide attack in 2003, in which 19 of the 23 dead were Italian, military and civilian.

Fallen in Iraq

End of the mission

The terrorists continued to fight on a smaller scale with the operation of guerrilla losing more and more men, means and territories. The mission ended on 1 December 2006.[6]

In popular culture

In Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege, Operation Ancient Babylon was mentioned in the bio of the GIS Operator Maestro, who had taken part in it.

See also


  1. ^ "Esercito Italiano: Operazione Antica Babilonia". Archived from the original on 4 February 2007. Retrieved 16 October 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Corriere della Sera". 8 April 2004. Archived from the original on 11 October 2018. Retrieved 24 January 2020.
  3. ^ a b c Lao Petrilli; Vincenzo Sinapi. Nassirya, la vera storia. Lindau. capitolo 5, Le battaglie dei ponti.
  4. ^ a b Fiorenza Sarzanini (14 September 2006). "Corriere della Sera".
  5. ^ "Sul Wikileaks la "battaglia dei ponti" La Russa: "La versione è quella già data"". Corriere della Sera. 25 October 2010.
  6. ^ Ministero delle Difesa. "Iraq - ANTICA BABILONIA" (in Italian). Retrieved 22 July 2014.