Italy and US at odds in Italian agent shooting probe

Italy and the US disagree over the findings of an investigation into the accidental shooting death by US soldiers of an Italian intelligence agent in Baghdad, according to Italian news reports.

Italy and the US disagree over the findings of an investigation into the accidental shooting death by US soldiers of an Italian intelligence agent in Baghdad, according to Italian news reports.

One report said Italian experts on the panel were refusing to sign off on the US conclusions.

The agent, Nicola Calipari, has been hailed as a national hero in Italy since he died on March 4 as he tried to shield a freed Italian hostage he was accompanying to the Iraqi capital’s airport shortly after she was released by her kidnappers.

Without citing sources, Rome daily Il Messaggero said the American conclusions vindicated the US soldiers.

From the first hours after the shooting by US soldiers stationed at a temporary checkpoint along an airport road, Rome and Washington have differed over what led to the killing.

Another Italian agent in the car, as well as the freed hostage, journalist Giuliana Sgrena, have insisted that the car wasn’t speeding and that the soldiers gave no warning.

Washington has insisted their rented Toyota Corolla was going too fast and that adequate warning was given to try to make the car stop.

Two Italians – a diplomat and military official – were invited to join the US probe.

“The checks and the interrogations carried out in nearly two months of work didn’t succeed in healing the clash on the key point of the affair: the warnings given by the American military forces before shooting,” Milan daily Corriere della Sera said.

Both Corriere and Rome daily La Repubblica said Italy was deciding what line to take in view of the differences.

But Rome daily Il Messaggero reported the two Italian experts had decided not to sign off on the conclusions.

The Italians “didn’t accept any compromise and have abandoned the common (working) table”, Il Messaggero said.

“We still hoping for a combined report,” said Ben Duffy, a US Embassy spokesman in Rome, when asked about the Italian news reports. “We haven’t given up at that.”

Earlier this month, the US State Department denied a report by US television network NBC that the investigation absolved Americans of responsibility, saying the investigation was still ongoing.

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, a staunch US ally, faces strong popular opposition at home to his decision to send 3,000 troops to Iraq after the US-led invasion. Pressure to pull out the troops mounted after Calipari was killed.

Finalising the report comes at a delicate time for the conservative premier, who is currently leading a caretaker government after his centre-right coalition was wracked by squabbling. Berlusconi will go before Parliament later this week for crucial confidence votes.

Italian Foreign Ministry spokesman Pasquale Terracciano said the ministry had no information on the probe’s report. Last week he called earlier reports of disagreements between investigators “speculation” but acknowledged there were conflicting accounts of what happened.

Italian state TV reported last night that the two Italian members of the investigation had returned to Rome from Iraq.

On Saturday, US Ambassador Mel Sembler told reporters that the investigation was about to be wrapped up.

Rome prosecutors are conducting their own probe. Il Messaggero quoted Prosecutor Franco Ionta as saying he hoped that with the end of the US-Italian probe, the prosecutors would be able to take delivery of the Toyota to examine it.

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