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Italy PM disputes US version of hostage shooting
Updated: 2005-03-10 16:53

ROME - Disputing Washington's version of events, Italy's premier said that an Italian intelligence agent who was shot to death by U.S. troops in Baghdad had informed the proper authorities that he was heading to the airport with a freed hostage.

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, center standing, delivers his address at a session in the Senate on the release in Iraq of Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena and the death of intelligence agent Nicola Calipari, in Rome Wednesday March 9, 2005. [AP]
Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, center standing, delivers his address at a session in the Senate on the release in Iraq of Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena and the death of intelligence agent Nicola Calipari, in Rome Wednesday March 9, 2005. [AP]
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi also told lawmakers that the car carrying agent Nicola Calipari and a just-liberated hostage was traveling slowly and stopped immediately when a light was flashed at a checkpoint, before U.S. troops fired on the car.

Though the U.S. and Italian versions of what happened Friday do not match up, "I'm sure that in a very short time every aspect of this will be clarified," Berlusconi said.

The idea that Calipari was killed by friendly fire is painful to accept, the premier said. But he reassured lawmakers: "The United States has no intention of evading the truth."

Berlusconi is a staunch supporter of US President Bush and the U.S.-led campaign and has been struggling to balance his decision to keep 3,000 troops in Iraq against heavy anti-war sentiment in Italy.

The premier said Calipari had notified an Italian liaison officer, waiting at the Baghdad airport along with an American officer, that he was on his way with the freed hostage, journalist Giuliana Sgrena.

However, the top U.S. general in Iraq has said he had no indication that Italian officials gave advance notice of the route the Italians' car was taking. In a statement released after the shooting, the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division, which controls Baghdad, said the vehicle was speeding and refused to stop.

Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi (L) greets freed hostage Giuliana Sgrena at Rome's military hospital on March 7.[AFP]
The statement also said a U.S. patrol tried to warn a driver with hand and arm signals, by flashing white lights and firing shots in front of the car.

Berlusconi's 20-minute address did not mention whether ransom was paid to win Sgrena's release. Some Italian officials have suggested a ransom was paid, but there has been no official confirmation. Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini denied Wednesday that ransoms were paid for any Italian hostages.

"There has been no payment," he said, speaking during a talk show on RAI1 state television.

Berlusconi once again urged Italians in Iraq to leave.

"When Italian citizens have been victims of kidnappings, the government has always acted by following two directives: It has always rejected political blackmail while at the same time activating all the political, diplomatic and intelligence channels to obtain the release of our nationals," Berlusconi said.

Calipari was shot and killed as he headed to Baghdad's airport after securing the release of Sgrena, who had been kidnapped on Feb. 4. Sgrena and another intelligence officer in the vehicle were wounded.

"The case of friendly fire is certainly the most painful to bear. It feels like an injustice beyond any sentiment. It's something unreasonable," Berlusconi said.

Photos aired by RAI, state TV's main evening news program, showed the light gray Toyota Corolla that Calipari and Sgrena were riding in, which is still in Iraq in the hands of the U.S. military.

The body of the car appeared to have little or no damage on its left side and front, including the lights. A few bullet holes are visible on the right side near the wheel and the front door.

Inside, the seats appear to be covered in glass, although the photos of the interior are grainy. A bullet hole also is evident in the back seat on the left side, where Sgrena reportedly was sitting.

U.S. officials have said American troops fired at the car's engine to stop it.

Berlusconi's address was well received and lawmakers followed it with a standing ovation in Calipari's honor.

The office of Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi said Wednesday that Bush had sent him a letter renewing a promise for a swift and thorough investigation.

In it, Bush called the shooting a "terrible tragedy" and expressed his solidarity, Ciampi's office said.

The U.S.-led coalition in Iraq announced Tuesday it was ordering an investigation into the shooting, to be led by a U.S. brigadier general with Italian officials' participation. Berlusconi said he expected the joint commission to release its findings in three to four weeks.

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