Rome to insist US version of agent's death is flawed

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The Independent Online

Italy is to hit back at an American report clearing US troops who shot and killed the chief of Italian military intelligence in Baghdad after he had secured the release of a hostage in the Iraqi capital.

Italy is to hit back at an American report clearing US troops who shot and killed the chief of Italian military intelligence in Baghdad after he had secured the release of a hostage in the Iraqi capital.

A separate Italian report on the affair, due to be released last night, reportedly casts doubt on the reliability of the US investigation into the death of Nicola Calipari, reopening the argument between Washington and Rome over the circumstances of his killing.

Mr Calipari was shot dead on 4 April, close to Baghdad airport, as he escorted Giuliana Sgrena, an Italian journalist who had been held hostage for a month, to Baghdad airport.

"This document has only one objective," said a source close to the Italian report, "to put in evidence what emerges from the facts. And that is that Calipari was killed through an unjustified reaction by the US patrol. To sum up, an error."

It was unclear what further steps the government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who remains a close friend of President Bush, might take to force the Americans to retract their version, which cleared US soldiers of wrongdoing.

"Parliament will examine the conclusions which our government reaches," said Pierferdinando Casini, the parliamentary speaker, during ceremonies at the port of Nettuno to mark the anniversary of the end of the Second World War, a setting that recalls the American-led liberation of Italy.

The Italian document reportedly accuses the US military of "tampering with the incident scene" and removing evidence.

Rome has refused to agree conclusions with the US after a joint inquiry. The new Italian report replies point by point to the previous Pentagon inquiry, which recommended that no disciplinary action be taken against the soldiers and said that the Italians had not informed the US forces that the car carrying Mr Calipari and Ms Sgrena was travelling to Baghdad airport. The Italian government has insisted that it made all necessary contacts with the Americans to ensure safe passage.

Italian media said a reconstruction of events showed that a three second warning given by the US troops was not enough time for the car to stop.

"The main points on which it is not possible to agree include the sequence of events, the rules of engagement and the coordination with the competent authorities in Iraq," a spokesman for the Italian foreign ministry said.

The American report brought renewed calls by Roberto Calderoli, a government minister from the Northern League party, for Italy to hasten the withdrawal of its 3,000 troops from Iraq.

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