Reporter shot by U.S. decries report results

Initial findings absolved troops, but Pentagon says final agreement is not set

April 27, 2005|By Tracy Wilkinson | Tracy Wilkinson,LOS ANGELES TIMES

ROME - An Italian journalist shot by U.S. soldiers in Iraq said yesterday that she was dismayed that a Pentagon report has cleared troops of any wrongdoing in the incident, branding the investigation a "slap in the face" of Italy.

Reporter Giuliana Sgrena was one of many Italians expressing outrage at the conclusion of the still-unreleased report on the shooting, which killed a top Italian security official who had secured Sgrena's release from Iraqi kidnappers.

Details of the report became public Monday, but Italian officials, who participated in the joint U.S.-Italian investigation, have reportedly refused to sign off on the final document.

"My latest information is that they have not come to a final agreement on a joint report," Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday at the Pentagon.

The March 4 shooting became a rare sore point between Rome and Washington. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been one of President Bush's most loyal allies, and losing an important security official to U.S. fire created enormous embarrassment for him.

Berlusconi's decision to send Italian troops to Iraq nearly two years ago was never popular, and the uproar over the investigation into the shooting seems likely to stir more trouble for his embattled government.

Aides to Berlusconi said he was in contact with U.S. Ambassador Mel Sembler to seek clarification. But the prime minister rebuffed demands from parliament to discuss the matter immediately, insisting instead that the investigation was not yet completed.

"The government ... will only speak about this when all the results of the inquiry are finalized," he said, the Ansa Italian news agency reported.

Pentagon officials speaking on condition of anonymity told the Los Angeles Times on Monday that the report had concluded that the U.S. soldiers acted according to their rules of engagement. Neither Rumsfeld nor Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would comment yesterday on the results of the investigation.

The shooting occurred on the notoriously treacherous road to Baghdad International Airport. The troops opened fire on the car carrying Sgrena and two Italian intelligence agents, wounding her and the driver. Nicola Calipari, a veteran agent, was killed shielding Sgrena.

From the beginning, Italian officials disputed the U.S. military's account of what happened. The Americans said the Italian vehicle was speeding and was warned to stop. The Italian government, citing testimony from Sgrena and the surviving agent, denied the car was speeding and said there had been no warning before the shooting started.

The Americans said the car was traveling about 50 mph; the Italians put the speed at about 30 mph. Sgrena has said the road was full of puddles, which slowed the car.

The two sides also disputed whether Calipari had alerted U.S. officials that the Italians were en route to the airport.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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