Berlusconi warns US friendly fire inquiry 'not over'
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi launched a bitter attack on the findings of a top-level US inquiry which absolved American soldiers from blame in the killing of an Italian intelligence officer, saying the investigation was "not concluded".
Berlusconi told the Italian parliament he regretted "indiscretions" had suggested the inquiry into the March 4 incident near Baghdad was completed, referring to a statement by a US army official exonerating US soldiers.
Berlusconi said later that he would address parliament on the issue "when the matter is concluded."
The discussions lasted about an hour, and neither official made any comment afterwards.
"We're still talking about it and it's still possible we can come to a shared result," a US official in Rome told AFP, on a day of intense contacts aimed at avoiding a fresh diplomatic spat over the killing.
The incident happened when soldiers manning a US checkpoint opened fire on the car carrying freed Italian hostage Giuliana Sgrena to safety. Nicola Calipari, Rome's top intelligence officer in Iraq at the time, was shot dead. He was given a full state funeral a week later.
Details released in Washington on Monday by a US army official said the soldiers "were not culpable of dereliction of duty in following their procedures."
The findings have caused anger in Italy, one of Washington's key allies in Iraq, where it has deployed 3,000 troops.
Sgrena, who was wounded in the shooting, said the report was "a slap in the face" and urged a strong reaction from the Rome government.
"After the apologies comes the slap in the face," wrote Sgrena, a journalist, in a frontpage editorial in her daily Il Manifesto.
Sgrena, who was held hostage for a month in Iraq, was wounded in the shoulder in the incident.
"It's worse that you can imagine. At first the Americans were talking about an accident, they even said sorry. Now they're denying any responsibility," Sgrena told the daily La Repubblica separately.
"They're saying they were only following the rules of engagement. But if you fire on a passing car which you were warned about, and follow the rules of engagement, you have to ask what those rules really were?"
Another intelligence officer, who was driving the car, was also wounded.
US authorities had taken no note of her testimony and that of the other agent, Sgrena said, underlining that their two accounts coincided although they had never met or discussed the shoot-out.
"Obviously, our two testimonies given to the American commission were useless. Or will I be charged with perjury?" questioned the journalist.
A US army official said Monday that the US investigation concluded that "the soldiers were all complying with the standard operating procedures for those checkpoints and therefore were not culpable of dereliction of duty in following their procedures."
He said the Italian and US sides were in disagreement over the speed at which the vehicle carrying the Italians approached the US-manned checkpoint, and over the communications between the Italian and American officials before the shooting.
Sgrena urged Berlusconi to react strongly to the report.
"The greatest disappointment would be if our authorities were to accept this insult without reacting," wrote Sgrena. "All the words said about Calipari would turn into hypocrisy ... and Nicola would have been our government's hero, just for one day."