US, Italy clash over shooting

May 01 2005

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WASHINGTON/ROME: Relations between the Bush administration and one of its closest European allies came under renewed strain last night when US and Italian investigators said they had failed to agree on the verdict of an inquiry into the shooting of an Italian intelligence agent by American soldiers in Iraq.

The death last month of Nicola Calipari, a senior officer in military intelligence, has become one of the most controversial of the Iraqi occupation, bringing appalled condemnation in Italy from across the political spectrum. He was killed near Baghdad soon after securing the release of an Italian journalist, Giuliana Sgrena, who had been taken hostage by insurgents. Mr Calipari was escorting her to Baghdad airport, when soldiers at a US checkpoint opened fire at their car, killing the intelligence officer and wounding Ms Sgrena.

A statement issued in Washington and Rome said a joint investigation into the incident on March 4 had ended. It added: “The investigators did not arrive at shared final conclusions even though, after examining jointly the evidence, they did agree on facts, findings and recommendations on numerous issues.”

Italy’s foreign minister, Gianfranco Fini, said the Italian government had decided to share in the findings of the investigation “out of necessary respect for Mr Calipari and that indispensable national self-respect that the government must maintain in circumstances such as these.”

In Washington, the Pentagon spokesman, Lawrence DiRita, said the US military would release its own version of the report soon independently of the Italian authorities. “We’ll release it and then the Italians can speak about the things they choose to speak about,” he said.

Mr Fini said the US report would “make it clear why we could not subscribe to it”.

A US report on Monday that the soldiers had been found “not culpable” sparked outrage in Italy. The prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, promised that the country would “never endorse” an unconvincing report on the incident.

Yesterday’s statement emphasised that the joint investigation was “carried out in a spirit of strong mutual cooperation, was intense and fruitful.”

Twelve days after Mr Calipari’s death, Mr Berlusconi said he would begin withdrawing his country’s troops from Iraq in September under pressure from public opinion. However, after a telephone conversation with President George Bush, he went back on his undertaking.—Dawn/The Guardian News Service