Italy to Challenge U.S. Report on Killing of Journo’s Rescuer

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(AP) Italy is challenging a U.S. report that cleared American soldiers of wrongdoing in the shooting of an Italian agent in Baghdad, a case that has sorely tested one of Washington’s staunchest allies in Iraq.

The Italian investigation of the death of Nicola Calipari found there were coordination problems among officials in Iraq and problems with the rules of engagement for checkpoints, Italy’s foreign ministry said on its Web site ahead of the report’s release Monday.

Speaking at a ceremony Monday to honor U.S. troops who died in the liberation of Italy during World War II, Pierferdinando Casini, speaker of Italy’s lower house of parliament, said the government’s conclusions were made “in the name of truth, clarity, and reciprocal loyalty.”

“Only in this way will we really fully honor martyrs of liberty,” he said.

U.S. Ambassador Mel Sembler, who also spoke at the ceremony, said ties between the two countries would remain strong despite the split.

Calipari was killed March 4, soon after he had secured the release of Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena from Iraqi militants who had held her hostage for a month. U.S. soldiers fired on the Italians’ vehicle as it approached an American checkpoint near Baghdad’s airport. Sgrena and another Italian agent were wounded.

The U.S. investigation said the incident might have been prevented by better coordination between the Italian government and U.S. forces in Iraq. It also said that the vehicle failed to slow down as it approached the checkpoint and that the soldiers who fired acted according to the rules of engagement.

The Italian report contends U.S. authorities were informed of the operation several hours before the shooting and were told of Sgrena’s release 25 minutes before Calipari was killed, Italian newspapers said.

The Italian version also argues that rapid removal of evidence from the site made a proper inspection impossible, according to the newspapers Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica.

Italy and the United States have publicly differed over crucial points about the incident since the first hours after the killing of Calipari, who was hailed as a national hero. The two Italian experts who participated in a joint U.S.-Italian probe of the shooting refused to sign off on the American conclusions.

When several days of negotiations failed to yield a common report, both sides went their own way.

The two sides are long-standing allies, and Italy is a main partner in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. The approximately 3,000 Italian soldiers sent to Iraq for reconstruction constitute one of the coalition’s largest contingents.

Though the opposition praised the government’s decision to dispute the U.S. version, Premier Silvio Berlusconi, a staunch American ally, will have to deal with other political fallout over the case, including calls to bring home Italy’s troops from Iraq.

“It seems that the Italians could only listen, not ask questions,” opposition lawmaker Luciano Violante told Radio Radicale. “We had been told instead that this was a joint commission.”

Berlusconi is expected to address parliament over the issue.

The U.S. report contained many blacked-out portions, including the names of the soldiers at the checkpoint and their units. But due to an apparent error, what was blacked out in the report could be read in some downloaded versions.

U.S. authorities in Iraq said Sunday they were aware of the situation and were looking into it. In Washington, officials at the Pentagon did not return calls.

Some of the material that had been blacked out discussed training for checkpoint duty and checkpoint procedures.

Other parts listed the number of attacks over recent months on the road to Baghdad airport, the techniques used by insurgents to plant explosives on the route and methods used by the U.S. military to counter these.

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