Italy, U.S. disagree on Iraq shooting

The U.S. State Department and the Italian Foreign Ministry released a statement April 29 declaring that a joint commission had failed to agree on a report about the killing of an Italian intelligence agent and the wounding of two other Italians, including left-wing journalist Giuliana Sgrena, by American soldiers in Iraq.

Only hours before the March 4 incident, Sgrena had been released by kidnappers. She was in the process of leaving Iraq when the shooting took place.

The official U.S. report, released April 30, concluded American soldiers gave adequate warning to the car carrying the Italians by beaming light and firing warning shots as it traveled toward a military checkpoint on the road to Baghdad International Airport. The report absolved the soldiers of any wrongdoing.

Italy published its findings May 2, blaming U.S. military authorities for failing to signal there was a checkpoint, and denying the U.S. claim that their military command was not notified of the mission. At the same time, it said that the tension and stress facing inexperienced U.S. troops may have contributed to their “instinctive and little-controlled reactions.”

Iraqi insurgents kidnapped Sgrena, a war correspondent with the left-wing newspaper Il Manifesto, in Fallujah Feb. 4. She was held captive for one month at an undisclosed location before her government secured her release.

When U.S. soldiers opened fire on her car, Sgrena was wounded in the shoulder and agent Nicola Calipari, the key negotiator in her release, was fatally shot in the head while shielding her. Another bodyguard was wounded as well.

The U.S. report sparked outrage across Italy, prompting officials there to openly criticize the U.S. government. Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper described the report as “the latest slap in the face by the United States.”

Last week in Rome, Sgrena answered reporters’ questions regarding the commission’s preliminary findings.

“They say that they respected all the rules of engagement and that is not true,” Sgrena said, “because I was there and I can testify that they just shot us without any advertising, any intention, any attempt to stop us.”

Sgrena said an Italian general had notified a U.S. Army captain prior to the attack that the rescue effort was under way and their vehicle was traveling toward the checkpoint.

“I was there when they called,” said Sgrena. “They called the Italian, because there is an official that is linked to the Americans. And this Italian general spoke to Captain Green, the American one, telling him that we were on this road and that they were aware that we were on that road. And this happened at least 20 to 25 minutes before the shooting.”

Sgrena denied they were warned by soldiers to stop or that their car was traveling at high speed. She also maintained that troops were positioned off the road and the shots came from behind the car.

“They were beside the road — they were not on the street,” she said. “They were away 10 meters and they didn’t give us any sign that they were there. I am proof that they were shooting on the back and not in front of the car. We can see by my injuries where I was shot,” referring her wounded shoulder.

Many Italians believe the shooting was a deliberate attempt by the U.S. to discourage the payment of ransom for hostages, a practice it opposes. Sgrena’s alleged ransom has been estimated by Italian news reports as between $6 million and $13 million.

“I want only the truth,” Sgrena said. “But they don’t seem to be interested to find the truth about what happened in Baghdad that night.”