The Italian journalist who was wounded by American troops in Baghdad shortly after she was released by her Iraqi captors denied US allegations that the car she was in was speeding, and described how the agent who had rescued her died protecting her.
“I remember only fire,” Giuliana Sgrena wrote in her newspaper, the communist daily Il Manifesto.
“At that point a rain of fire and bullets came at us, forever silencing the happy voices from a few minutes earlier.”
Sgrena was wounded and Italian intelligence officer Nicola Calipari was killed as they celebrated her freedom on the way to the airport.
The shooting on Friday has fuelled anti-American sentiment in a country where people are deeply opposed to the war in Iraq.
Sgrena’s newspaper, Il Manifesto, has been a fierce opponent of the war and of Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s decision to send 3,000 troops.
Sgrena said the driver began shouting that they were Italian, then “Nicola Calipari dove on top of me to protect me and immediately, and I mean immediately, I felt his last breath as he died on me.”
Suddenly, she said, she remembered her captors’ words, when they warned her “to be careful because the Americans don’t want you to return”.
The US military said the Americans used hand and arm signals, flashing white lights and fired warning shots to get the car to stop. But in an interview with Italian La 7 TV, Sgrena said “there was no bright light, no signal”.
Italian military officials said two other agents were wounded, but US officials said it was only one.
The agent who was killed, Calipari, had led negotiations for the journalist’s release.
Sgrena returned to Rome on Saturday morning, looking haggard and with a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. She walked unsteadily and was hooked up to an intravenous drip following surgery to remove shrapnel from her shoulder.
She recounted her ordeal later from a Rome military hospital, where she also met with Calipari’s wife, the Italian news agency Apcom said.
In her article, Sgrena wrote that her captors warned her as she was about to be released not to signal her presence to anyone, because “the Americans might intervene”.
“It was the happiest and also the most dangerous moment,” Sgrena wrote. “If we had run into someone, meaning American troops, there would have been an exchange of fire, and my captors were ready and they would have responded.”
Sgrena said her captors then blindfolded her and drove her to a location, where they made her get out of the car.
That’s when she first heard Calipari’s voice, she said.
“Giuliana, Giuliana, I’m Nicola. Don’t worry, I’ve spoken with (Il Manifesto director) Gabriele Polo.
"Don’t worry, you’re free,” he told her.
Neither Italian nor US officials gave out any details about how Sgrena managed to gain her freedom after a month in the hands of Iraqi insurgents, but there was speculation over possible ransom.
The coffin with Calipari’s body was carried out of the military plane wrapped in an Italian flag and blessed by a military priest and the agent’s brother, a priest who serves on a Vatican advisory body. Calipari’s wife, mother and two children also were present.
The coffin was loaded onto a hearse and taken to the coroner’s office in Rome. An autopsy was performed today, and the ANSA news agency quoted doctors as saying Calipari was struck in the temple by a single round and died instantly.
The body was expected to lie in state at Rome’s Vittoriano monument, and a state funeral was planned for Monday.
Ciampi said he would award Calipari the gold medal of valour for his heroism.
“What happened yesterday in Baghdad was a homicide,” Polo told Apcom.
“The Americans must be firmly reminded to respect human and civil rules,” ANSA quoted Mirko Tremaglia, minister for Italians abroad, as saying.
Sgrena was abducted on February 4 by gunmen who blocked her car outside Baghdad University.