Sunday, March 06, 2005

Italian Journalist Shot in Iraq Rejects U.S. Account

“The Italian journalist wounded by American troops in Iraq after her release by insurgents rejected the U.S. military's account of the shooting and declined Sunday to rule out the possibility she was deliberately targeted. The White House said it was a ``horrific accident'' and promised a full investigation.

Meanwhile, an autopsy performed on the agent who died trying to save Giuliana Sgrena reportedly showed he was struck in the temple by a single round and died instantly as the car carrying Sgrena sped to the Baghdad airport.

Friday's shooting that wounded the 56-year-old journalist and killed Italian intelligence officer Nicola Calipari as they were celebrating her freedom has fueled anti-American sentiment in a country where people are deeply opposed to U.S. policy in Iraq.

But government officials indicated the shootings would not affect the decision by Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi -- a strong U.S. ally -- to maintain 3,000 troops in Iraq to help secure peace in the country.

``The military mission must carry on because it consolidates democracy and liberty in Iraq,'' Communications Minister Maurizio Gasparri was quoted as saying by the ANSA news agency. ``On the other hand, we must control -- but not block -- the presence of civilians and journalists, who must observe rules and behavior to reduce the risks.''

Sgrena, who works for the communist daily Il Manifesto, did not rule out that she was targeted, saying the United States likely disapproved of Italy's methods to secure her release, although she did not elaborate.

``The fact that the Americans don't want negotiations to free the hostages is known,'' Sgrena told Sky TG24 television by telephone, her voice hoarse and shaky. ``The fact that they do everything to prevent the adoption of this practice to save the lives of people held hostages, everybody knows that. So I don't see why I should rule out that I could have been the target.''

Italian officials have not provided details about the negotiations leading to Sgrena's release Friday after a month in captivity, but Agriculture Minister Giovanni Alemanno was quoted as saying it was ``very likely'' a ransom was paid. U.S. officials object to ransoms, saying it encourages further kidnappings.

The U.S. military has said the car Sgrena was riding in was speeding, and Americans used hand and arm signals, flashing white lights and warning shots to get it to stop at the roadblock.

But in an interview with Italian La 7 TV, Sgrena said, ``There was no bright light, no signal.'' She also said the car was traveling at ``regular speed.''

Sgrena also recalled how Calipari, who led negotiations for her release, died after throwing himself over her when the shooting broke out as they were celebrating her freedom on the way to the airport.

``I remember only fire,'' she wrote in Il Manifesto, which fiercely opposed the war in Iraq. ``At that point a rain of fire and bullets came at us, forever silencing the happy voices from a few minutes earlier.''

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.''

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.'' She said her captors blindfolded her and drove her to a location where she was turned over to agents and they set off for the airport.

Calipari's body was returned to Italy late Saturday, and Berlusconi and President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi joined Calipari's wife, mother and two children at Rome's Ciampino Airport to receive it.
con·cept: Italian Journalist Shot in Iraq Rejects U.S. Account