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THE WORLD

Italians Greet Exoneration With Dismay

A former Iraq hostage decries the Pentagon's reported clearing of troops who killed her countryman. Rome has yet to accept findings.

April 27, 2005|Tracy Wilkinson | Times Staff Writer

ROME — An Italian journalist shot by U.S. soldiers in Iraq said Tuesday she was dismayed that a Pentagon report had cleared the troops of any wrongdoing in the incident, branding the investigation a "slap in the face" to her country.

Reporter Giuliana Sgrena was one of many Italians expressing outrage at the conclusion of the still-unreleased report into the shooting, which killed a top Italian security official who had secured Sgrena's release from Iraqi kidnappers.

Details of the report became public Monday, but Italian officials, who had participated in the investigation, have reportedly refused to sign off on the final document.

"My latest information is that they have not come to a final agreement on a joint report," Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said at the Pentagon on Tuesday.

The March 4 shooting became a rare sore point between Rome and Washington. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been one of President Bush's most loyal allies, and losing an important security official to U.S. fire created enormous embarrassment for him.

Berlusconi's decision to send Italian troops to Iraq nearly two years ago was never popular, and now controversy over the probe into the shooting seems likely to stir more trouble for his embattled government.

Aides to Berlusconi said he was in contact with U.S. Ambassador Mel Sembler to seek clarification. But the prime minister rebuffed demands from Parliament to discuss the matter immediately, insisting instead that the investigation was not yet completed.

"The government ... will only speak about this when all the results of the inquiry are finalized," he said, the Ansa Italian news agency reported.

Pentagon officials speaking on condition of anonymity told The Times on Monday that the report concluded that the U.S. soldiers had acted according to their rules of engagement. Neither Rumsfeld nor Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would comment Tuesday on the results of the investigation because the report had not yet been released.

The shooting occurred on the notoriously treacherous road to Baghdad's international airport. The troops opened fire on the car carrying Sgrena and two Italian intelligence agents, wounding her and the driver. Nicola Calipari, a veteran agent and hostage negotiator, was killed shielding Sgrena.

From the beginning, Italian officials disputed the U.S. military's account of what happened. The Americans said the Italian vehicle had been speeding and they had warned it to stop. The Italian government, citing testimony from Sgrena and the surviving agent, denied that the car had been speeding and said no warning was issued before the shooting started.

The Americans said the car had been traveling about 50 mph; the Italians put the speed at about 30 mph. Sgrena said the road was full of puddles, which slowed the car.

The two sides also disputed whether Calipari had alerted U.S. officials that the Italians were en route to the airport.

Calipari has been posthumously hailed as a hero in Italy, and he was buried in a state funeral with full military honors.

Giuseppe Fioroni, an official with one of Italy's main opposition political coalitions, the center-left Margherita, said Tuesday that the U.S. investigation was "an insult to the memory of the officer killed" and an "absolutely unacceptable ... act of arrogance toward Italy."

"The Italian government must ask U.S. authorities for a full collaboration in finding those responsible" for the shooting, he said. "A one-way conclusion not recognized by Italy is an offense to truth and the memory of Nicola Calipari."

Sgrena said the reported conclusion of the U.S. probe was even worse than she feared.

"The greatest disappointment would be if our authorities were to accept this insult without reacting," Sgrena wrote in a front-page column for her publication, the left-wing newspaper Il Manifesto.

At a news conference Tuesday, Sgrena reiterated her contention that Calipari was "murdered."

"Now we want the truth, and we want to know who gave the order to open fire on that car," she said.

Times staff writer Mark Mazzetti in Washington contributed to this report.

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