Italians to dispute US report on agent's shooting

Italy is expected to pick apart US conclusions on the shooting by American soldiers of an Italian agent in Baghdad, challenging a report that cleared US troops of any wrongdoing in the incident.

Italy is expected to pick apart US conclusions on the shooting by American soldiers of an Italian agent in Baghdad, challenging a report that cleared US troops of any wrongdoing in the incident.

Italy said it would make public its own version of the dynamics surrounding the March 4 death of agent Nicola Calipari today. He had just won the release of an Italian hostage Giuliana Sgrena when he was shot at a temporary US checkpoint on the road to Baghdad airport.

The Italian government should “maintain its position that gives its own reading of the events”, former Foreign Minister Gianni De Michelis told Italian state radio today. “I believe it’s also in the interests of both Italy and the US to move beyond this affair as soon as possible,” said De Michelis, whose small socialist party is an ally in Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s ruling coalition.

The Italian Foreign Ministry said on its website that Italy’s report would illustrate problems of co-ordination with authorities in Iraq and with rules of engagement for checkpoints.

Italian newspapers said Italian investigators would differ on several points with their US counterparts.

The US military released its report on Saturday, saying American soldiers didn’t do anything wrong. The report contended the car failed to slow down at the checkpoint and that the Italians did not communicate their hostage rescue mission to US authorities.

In contrast, the Italian report will contend that US authorities were informed of the operation several hours before the shooting and were told of Sgrena’s release 25 minutes before Calipari was killed, newspapers Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica said.

The Italian report will argue that rapid removal of evidence from the site of the shooting made a proper inspection impossible, the papers said.

The two Italian experts who participated in the joint US-Italian probe – a diplomat and a military intelligence general – refused to sign off on the Americans’ conclusions. When several days of negotiations failed to yield a common report, both sides went their own way on the findings.

The two sides are long-standing allies, and Italy is a main partner in the US-led coalition in Iraq. Italy's approximately 3,000 troops who were deployed in Iraq for reconstruction constitute one of the coalition’s largest contingents.

Though the opposition praised the government’s decision to dispute the US version, Berlusconi, a staunch American ally, will have to deal with other political fallout over the case, including calls to bring home Italy’s troops from Iraq.

Roberto Calderoli, reforms minister in the conservative government, said differences over the investigation into Calipari’s death should trigger “an attentive and deep reflection on when our troops should come back,” according to comments reported in La Stampa newspaper.

The US report contained many blacked-out portions, including the names of the soldiers at the checkpoint and their units. But due to apparent error, what was blacked out in the report could be read in some downloaded versions.

US authorities in Iraq said on Sunday they were aware of the situation and were looking into it. Pentagon officials have not commented.

Some of the material that had been blacked out discussed training for checkpoint duty and checkpoint procedures.

Other parts listed the number of attacks over recent months on the road to Baghdad airport, the techniques used by insurgents to plant explosives on the route and methods used by the US military to counter these.

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