U.S. Soldiers Held Blameless in Death of Italian

By: The Associated Press

The U.S. Army has cleared American soldiers in the death of an Italian agent in Iraq and recommended no disciplinary action following an investigation, according to a report released Saturday.

“This was a tragic accident,” investigating officer Brig. Gen. Peter Vangjel said in a statement expressing “deepest sympathies” to the agent’s family.

Nicola Calipari was mistakenly shot to death on 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 a U.S. checkpoint near Baghdad’s airport. Sgrena and another Italian agent were wounded.

The U.S. investigation concluded that the vehicle had failed to reduce speed as it approached the checkpoint and said the soldiers who fired at it acted in accordance with the rules of engagement.

U.S. and Italian experts had worked for over a month on a joint investigation into the killing, which sparked outrage in Italy and irritated relations with Washington. But from the start, testimony from the two survivors clashed with the U.S. military’s account.

Italy and the United States said Friday they had failed to agree on whether U.S. soldiers were at fault, an acknowledgment that will further irritate relations and increase pressure on Italy to withdraw its forces from Iraq.

In a statement on Friday, the two countries said their joint investigation into the March 4 death had concluded and that they couldn’t arrive at any “shared final conclusions.”

“Out of a dutiful homage to Calipari, and out of an indispensable national dignity that a government must have, the Italian government could not have been asked to sign off on reconstruction of the facts that as far as we know does not correspond to what happened that night,” Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini said Friday.

The Americans maintain that soldiers fired warning shots in the air, then shot at the engine block because the car was speeding. The survivors insist they saw the beam of a warning light virtually at the same time gunfire broke out. The surviving intelligence agent has also testified he was driving slowly.

Premier Silvio Berlusconi, a staunch U.S. ally, said he intends to speak to President Bush about Calipari’s death, the ANSA news agency reported Saturday. He also said “the reasons for our friendship are unquestionable” and the presence of coalition troops in Iraq remained “fundamental to further spread democracy in the world.”

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