Italian PM rejects US version of shooting

Wednesday, March 9, 2005

In his first public speech since the fatal shooting that killed an Italian Intelligence agent in Iraq, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has rejected the version of events presented by the US administration.

The intelligence agent, Nicola Calipari, was escorting freed hostage, Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, when their car came under fire by US troops on the journey to Baghdad airport last week, leaving Nicola Calipari dead and Giuliana Sgrena and another intelligence agent wounded.

Mr Berlusconi has disputed US claims that the car was speeding and also said that the US military had known of and authorised the car's journey. Berlusconi's speech to parliament comes a day after his Foreign Minister, Gianfranco Fini made a similar speech to lawmakers, where he refuted Ms. Sgrena's claims that the shooting was the result of an ambush.

The US began their official investigation on March 8, four days after the shooting. The results are yet to be determined.

However in a statement given immediately after the attack by the US Army's 3rd Infantry Division, who controls Baghdad, said that Italian officials had given no advance warning to the US Army of their journey, and that the car was speeding and refused to stop. One Army official stated that the car was traveling over 100 miles per hour (161 kilometers per hour) and almost hydroplaned several times, an assertion that Sgrena herself seemingly corroborated in her article for Il Manifesto.

"The United States has no intention of evading the truth. I'm sure that in a very short time every aspect of this will be clarified." Mr Berlusconi said, describing the shooting as an "accident." Adding that he expected the findings of an investigation into the shooting, being led by a US brigadier general, in cooperation with Italian authorities, to be released in three to four weeks.

Meanwhile the office of Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi said that it had received a letter from U.S. President George Bush saying that the shooting was a "terrible tragedy" and that "President Bush assures President Ciampi that the United States will move toward a swift and exhaustive joint investigation."

Recently, the Associated Press and the Italian RAI TGI television released photos of the car after the attack by American soldiers.[1], [2] The pictures show little visible damage to the vehicle.

Sgrena claims that the American soldiers fired between 300 and 400 rounds at the car from an armoured vehicle. This is disputed by the US military, as a tank or other fighting vehicle would likely have entirely destroyed the car.