Berlusconi to speak to Bush about death of Italian agent in Iraq
Premier Silvio Berlusconi indicated he would speak to US President George W. Bush about the death of an Italian intelligence agent in Iraq, reports said Saturday, a day after the Italian government announced it was not signing off on a US reconstruction of events in the killing.
``I haven't talked to Bush, not on this occasion, not during these days, but I know the situation very well and I certainly think I will talk to him,'' Berlusconi was quoted as saying by the ANSA news agency Saturday.
Italy and the United States said Friday they had failed to agree on whether US soldiers were at fault in the death of Nicola Calipari, who was mistakenly shot by US soldiers in Baghdad on March 4.
In a statement, the two countries said their joint investigation into the accident had concluded and that they couldn't arrive at any ``shared final conclusions.'' The statement said the case had now be referred to respective national authorities; Italy has launched a criminal inquiry into Calipari's death.
Italians stood by the government's decision not to agree to US findings, largely praising Berlusconi for standing his ground with a close ally.
``Support for Berlusconi and embarrassment about an unsatisfactory solution are bipartisan,'' Italy's top daily Corriere della Sera wrote Saturday. L'Unita, a leftist paper, said the government's position was ``the only acceptable element in this very ugly story.''
Calipari was killed soon after he had secured the release of Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena from Iraqi militants who had held her hostage for a month. US soldiers fired on the Italians' vehicle as it approached a US checkpoint near Baghdad's airport. Sgrena and another Italian agent were wounded.
``A sovereign country cannot accept conclusions that it doesn't share,'' opposition lawmaker Umberto Ranieri told La Stampa in an interview published Saturday. ``Only by identifying those who are responsible will we be true to Calipari's memory.''
US and Italian experts had worked for over a month on a joint investigation into the killing, which sparked outrage in Italy and irritated relations with Washington. But from the start, testimony from the two survivors clashed with the US military's account.
The Americans maintain that soldiers fired warning shots in the air, then shot at the engine block because the car was speeding. The survivors insist they saw the beam of a warning light virtually at the same time gunfire broke out. The surviving intelligence agent has also testified he was driving slowly.
``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,'' the statement said.
The admission that the two countries couldn't agree on who was to blame was significant since Italy is Washington's closest European ally after Britain. Berlusconi had weathered fierce opposition at home for having sent about 3,000 troops to Iraq after the war and had put his government's credibility on the line in promising Italians full light would be shed on the incident.
After days of media leaks, the decision was expected, and both Rome and Washington tried to put a positive spin on their failure to agree on the incident.
But many said the failure to arrive at shared conclusions would further irritate relations between the two countries.
``Another victim of the Iraqi war was the loyal relationship between Italy and the United States,'' said Ugo Intini of the center-left opposition. ``The Italian government has maintained its position with dignity; the American one made no concessions,'' he said.
Some from the extreme left demanded that Rome pull out its contingent.
Sgrena's paper, communist daily Il Manifesto, said Saturday that the logical consequence of the disagreement would be a troop pullout.
``The outcome is intolerable for the country and should be for its institutions, too,'' said Communist leader Fausto Bertinotti. ``American behavior shows that this war is intolerable in all its forms.''
Berlusconi is expected to appear before Parliament to discuss the issue. He has already said he hoped Italian forces could begin returning by September _ although he has said the decision would depend on the security situation and would be made in agreement with the United States and other allies.
A US report is expected to be made public within a few days.