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U.S. Clears Troops in Italian's Death

THE CONFLICT IN IRAQ

A military investigation into the Iraq killing of an agent and wounding of a freed hostage finds the soldiers followed proper procedures.

April 26, 2005|Mark Mazzetti | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A U.S. military investigation has cleared American troops of wrongdoing in the killing of an Italian intelligence agent at a U.S. checkpoint in Iraq, officials said Monday, a conclusion that is likely to stoke the anger simmering throughout Italy since the shooting last month.

The unreleased report will conclude that American troops followed proper procedures when the car carrying agent Nicola Calipari approached the checkpoint along the dangerous road leading to Baghdad's airport.

The soldiers fired on the vehicle, killing Calipari and wounding the driver and Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, who had just been freed by Iraqi kidnappers.

"The investigation clears the guys from doing anything wrong," said one senior Pentagon official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "They followed their rules of engagement."

Officials in Washington and Rome wrangled Monday over the final language of the report, which Pentagon officials said would probably be issued this week.

"Everything is not smooth at the moment," said one official at the Italian Embassy in Washington, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "It was decided to have a common language coming from both sides."

A senior military official in Washington identified two potential areas of disagreement: whether the Italians were speeding and whether they had radioed their whereabouts to the U.S. military headquarters in Baghdad.

The "friendly-fire" incident ignited a rare public disagreement between the allies and intensified pressure on Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to withdraw his country's troops from Iraq.

Insurgents kidnapped Sgrena in early February after she interviewed refugees near Baghdad.

On March 4, Calipari was riding in a car with Sgrena after successfully negotiating the journalist's release. When the U.S. troops fired on the Italians at the checkpoint, Calipari threw his body in front of Sgrena to protect her.

After his death, Italian officials praised Calipari as a national hero and demanded a full investigation.

The soldiers at the checkpoint told investigators that the car had been speeding and that the driver ignored had repeated warnings, including shots fired in the air, to stop the vehicle.

However, the Italian officer driving the car and Sgrena dispute the troops' version of events. Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini, appearing before Parliament last month, said the vehicle was not speeding, nor were its occupants warned to stop.

Fini said Calipari, a veteran officer who had negotiated the release of several Italian hostages in Iraq, had alerted U.S. authorities that the car would be making its way to Baghdad's airport, where the group was to board a flight to Rome.

But Army Gen. George W. Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told reporters last month that he had no reason to believe that U.S. officials were warned that the Italians were on the airport road.

The report was prepared by Army Brig. Gen. Peter Vangjel, the artillery commander for coalition forces in Iraq, who led a team of investigators that included U.S. and Italian officers.

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