The Bush assministration sends a message to any would-be allies by claiming that it was the Italians’ fault that U.S. soldiers shot them while they were slowly traveling on the road to the Baghdad Airport.
And the Italians are not amused.
Italian opposition parties branded a report that cleared U.S. soldiers of blame for the killing of an Italian agent in Iraq an insult on Tuesday and urged the government to press for a fuller investigation.
A U.S. Army official, briefing reporters in Washington on the preliminary results of the investigation, said on Monday that the soldiers had followed their rules of engagement and should therefore face no charges of dereliction of duty.
The probe was conducted jointly with the Italians but the Army official said Italy, a close ally in Iraq, had balked at endorsing the report. Rome disagreed with its findings on the car’s speed and whether the Italians kept U.S. troops informed.
The Italian Foreign Ministry declined comment, saying the report was still not official.
Giuseppe Fioroni, a leader of the opposition centre-left Margherita party, urged the government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to demand full cooperation from the U.S. authorities to determine who was responsible for Calipari’s killing.
“A one-sided conclusion absolving anyone of blame that the Italian side does not accept is an insult to the truth and to the memory of Nicola Calipari apart from being a serious act of arrogance towards Italy,” Fioroni said in a statement.
Gigi Malabarba, of the Communist Refoundation Party, alleged in a speech in the Italian Senate that the U.S. ambassador in Iraq at the time, John Negroponte, wanted Calipari killed for negotiating with hostage-takers. He admitted he had no proof.
Greens member of parliament Laura Cima called the findings “a big slap in the face for the Italian government” and said it should press for the truth “if it can find any pride at all”.
The report was the latest in a series of U.S. military investigations into killings by American forces in Iraq to have found no wrongdoing by soldiers.
Corriere della Sera newspaper quoted the unnamed Italian agent who was driving and who was also wounded as saying the car was moving at 40-50 km/h (25-30 mph) and was shot at without warning, while the report had it travelling at 80 km/h (50 mph).
After the incident, the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division in Baghdad released a statement saying soldiers tried to warn the vehicle to stop by using hand and arm signals, flashing lights and warning shots. Sgrena has said she heard and saw no warning.
Former hostage and checkpoint victim Guiliana Sgrena was not pleased either.
In a front page editorial in her left-wing daily Il Manifesto, Sgrena called on Silvio Berlusconi, the Prime Minister, to respond what she called a “slap in the face for the Italian Government”.
Sgrena, a veteran war correspondent who was held hostage for a month in Iraq, wrote: “After the apologies comes the slap in the face.”
She said that the Americans had not listened to either her testimony or that of another Italian agent, even though, she said, both had given the same evidence without discussing what had happened.
“Obviously, our two testimonies given to the American commission were useless. Or will I be charged with perjury?” questioned the journalist.
“The greatest disappointment would be if our authorities were to accept this insult without reacting.”
So, this is how we treat one of our few remaining allies? Berlusconi deserves to be kicked out of office for supporting this illegal war, and the Bushies just handed his opponents a pair of Doc Martens.
Richard Owen, Rome Correspondent of The Times, said that the Italian Government could refuse to counter-sign the report or could decide to issue their own report, since the official Italian version completely contradicts the Pentagon version of events.
“It comes a very bad time for Signor Berlusconi, just when he’s reforming his Government after disastrous losses in regional election,” Owen said.
“It will also increase pressure on him to withdraw Italian troops as soon as possible.”