Report 'clears US soldiers' over death of Italian agent

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The Independent Online

A US military investigation into the death of an Italian intelligence officer shot in Baghdad is expected to conclude that the American soldiers generally followed instructions as they fired on the agent's approaching car, says a senior US defence official.

A US military investigation into the death of an Italian intelligence officer shot in Baghdad is expected to conclude that the American soldiers generally followed instructions as they fired on the agent's approaching car, says a senior US defence official.

But the probe into the 4 March shooting is expected to raise questions about the rules of engagement given to US soldiers manning checkpoints in Iraq, said the official. These instructions include descriptions of how much force US soldiers are allowed to use against potential threats.

The US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the report has not been finished, did not clarify whether the soldiers involved in the shooting would face some criticism for their performance. A conclusion that they followed their orders, however, could make it less likely they would be accused of having committed major errors.

While Italian officials participated in the US investigation, it is unclear whether the Italians would endorse the report, the official said.

Italian news reports said they disagreed with the US findings. A US Embassy spokesman in Rome, Ben Duffy, said: "We still hoping for a combined report."

If the Italians don't join, the report's credibility would be hurt in Italy, a nation that sent 3,000 troops to Iraq after the US-led invasion.

The Italian officer, Nicola Calipari, was killed March 4 when US soldiers fired on a car carrying him and two others as it approached the American checkpoint. He died trying to shield a freed Italian hostage that he had helped release from her insurgent captors.

From the first hours after the shooting, Rome and Washington have differed over what led to the killing. One news report in Italy on Monday said Italian experts on a joint panel were refusing to sign off on the US conclusions.

Italian state TV said both sides were trying to reconcile "contrasting versions" of the shooting in final-hour mediation by Italian and US investigators.

Calipari has been hailed as a national hero in Italy since he died March 4 as he tried to shield a freed Italian hostage he was accompanying to the Iraqi capital's airport shortly after she was released by her kidnappers. He was shot by US soldiers stationed at a temporary checkpoint on a road to Baghdad airport.

Without citing sources, Rome daily Il Messaggero said the American conclusions "exculpate from every accusation" the US soldiers.

Another Italian agent in the car, as well as the former hostage, journalist Giuliana Sgrena, have insisted that the car wasn't speeding and that the soldiers gave no warning. Washington has insisted the Italians' rented Toyota Corolla was going too fast and that adequate warning was given to try to make the car stop.

Two Italians - a diplomat and military official - were invited to join the US probe.

"The checks and the interrogations carried out in nearly two months of work didn't succeed in healing the clash on the key point of the affair: the warnings given by the American military forces before shooting," Milan daily Corriere della Sera said.

Both Corriere and Rome daily La Repubblica said Italy was deciding what line to take in view of the differences.

But Rome daily Il Messaggero reported that the two Italian experts had decided not to sign off on the conclusions.

The Italians "didn't accept any compromise and have abandoned the common (working) table," Il Messaggero said.

Italian RAI state television said the report would be released on Tuesday or Wednesday, and that both sides "are trying for mediation to reconcile the contrasting versions" by the US and Italian investigators.

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