- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 3, 2005

ROME — Commentators yesterday heaped scorn on Italy’s “face-saving” report on U.S. soldiers’ shooting of the top Italian intelligence agent in Baghdad as Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi fought off mounting pressure to withdraw Italian troops from Iraq.

Mr. Berlusconi is expected to address Parliament tomorrow about the report on the March 4 death of Nicola Calipari, who was killed on the Baghdad airport road as he shielded a female journalist whose release from kidnappers he had just secured.

Italy declined to sign an American report drawn up after a joint U.S.-Italian commission of inquiry into the tragic affair, issuing on Monday a separate report that evidently was intended to allay fears of a U.S. whitewash.

Respected pundits such as Giuseppe D’Avanzo, a national security correspondent for la Repubblica newspaper, said the Italian report had done little to assuage public concern over Italy’s handling of the sensitive case.

“One understands that the Italian government had no sources of proof in hand to accuse anyone,” Mr. D’Avanzo said. “The Italian government finds it convenient that it was an accidental tragedy, a manslaughter, that nobody can be put in the dock.”

Several newspapers said Mr. Berlusconi demanded last-minute changes in the report to soften criticism of the United States and ensure that it did not sour relations with Washington.

The prime minister, Italy’s richest man, “read, reread, corrected and tweaked” the report before handing it back to military intelligence, which posted it on its Web site four hours after it was scheduled for release, Il Messaggero of Rome reported.

Mr. Berlusconi, disregarding massive street protests, sent 3,000 troops to southern Iraq in June 2003 to take part in the U.S.-led coalition.

But outrage over the shooting of Mr. Calipari, who was given a hero’s state funeral in Rome after saving the life of journalist Giuliana Sgrena, has prompted renewed calls for Rome to withdraw its troops.

“The dramatic situation in Iraq makes the return of the Italian troops even more relevant,” said Green Party leader Alfonso Percorario Scanio, one of the most vociferous opponents of Italy’s deployment.

“Yesterday’s report confirms that Iraq is a country in chaos. One cannot accept that stressed, ill-prepared and inexpert soldiers like those who killed the brave Calipari are shooting at passers-by. Enough talk. It’s time to begin withdrawing.”

Mr. D’Avanzo said the Italian report was so muted in its criticism of the United States that it raised the question why Rome had not signed the original document drawn up by American investigators.

“The answer is that … the government must save face. It has played its part, flying the flag of national dignity and fatherland pride, taking advantage of the unprecedented support of the radical left” for Mr. Calipari, he said.

“At the same time, the head of the government cannot really break with the Americans … so he accepts the basic conclusion of the American command but puts out a report filled with reticence and verbal tricks.”

Mr. D’Avanzo said it was absurd for the report to criticize the organization of the roadblock where Mr. Calipari was shot, given Italy’s failure to prevent a suicide truck bomb attack on Italian troops at Nasariyah.

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