Italy disputes US version of Iraq killing

Italy’s foreign affairs minister said on Tuesday that United States troops killed an Italian intelligence officer by accident, but disputed Washington’s version of events and demanded US authorities thoroughly investigate the incident.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Gianfranco Fini told Parliament that the car carrying the intelligence officer and an ex-hostage to freedom was not speeding and US troops did not order it to stop, contrary to what US officials say.

However, he also dismissed allegations that the shooting on Friday that killed Nicola Calipari was an ambush—a claim made by the released hostage, Giuliana Sgrena.

“It was an accident,” Fini told lawmakers. “This does not prevent, in fact, it makes it a duty for the government to demand that light be shed on the murky issues, that responsibilities be pinpointed and, where found, that the culprits be punished.”

Calipari was shot on Friday as he headed to the airport with Sgrena, a journalist who had been kidnapped on February 4. Sgrena and another intelligence officer in the vehicle were wounded.

“The car was travelling at a speed that couldn’t have been more than 40kph,” Fini said.
He said that a light was flashed at the car after a curve and that the gunfire—lasting 10 or 15 seconds—started immediately afterward, disputing US military claims that several attempts were made to stop the car.

Italy’s “reconstruction of the tragic event ... does not fully coincide with what has been communicated by US authorities,” said Fini. He added that the “sequence of acts carried out by the US soldiers before the shooting” is one of the main discrepancies.

In a statement released on Friday night, the US Third Infantry Division, which controls Baghdad, said the vehicle was “travelling at high speeds” and “refused to stop at a checkpoint”.

It said a US patrol “attempted to warn the driver to stop by hand and arm signals, flashing white lights, and firing warning shots in front of the car”, the military said in a statement. “When the driver didn’t stop, the soldiers shot into the engine block, which stopped the vehicle, killing one and wounding two others.”

Fini said the hypothesis that the shooting was the result of an ambush—as suggested by Sgrena—is “groundless”.

The journalist said over the past days that the shooting might have been intentional because the US opposes Italy’s policy of negotiating with kidnappers. The White House has dismissed the claim as “absurd”, and two Italian prosecutors investigating the killing said that there is no evidence pointing to a possible ambush, according to news reports.

Fini stressed that the US government is an allied country that has promised full cooperation.

The shooting outraged the nation and rekindled questions over Italy’s involvement in Iraq, where Premier Silvio Berlusconi sent 3 000 troops. But the government has made it clear that it is not considering a withdrawal following Calipari’s killing.

On Monday, Italy bade farewell to Calipari at a solemn funeral in a Rome basilica that drew 20 000 mourners.

Several Rome newspapers said a lack of communication between Italian intelligence and US forces may have led to the gunfire.

La Repubblica daily, citing unnamed US military sources, said Italian officials did not send notice of the hostage’s liberation or of the type of vehicle she was being carried in.

But Fini said that Calipari, an experienced officer who had negotiated the release of other hostages in Iraq in the past, “made all the necessary contacts with the US authorities”, both with those in charge of airport security and with the forces patrolling areas next to the airport.—Sapa-AP