- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 3, 2005

ROME — Italy yesterday blamed “stress and inexperience” among U.S. troops for the shooting death of its top intelligence agent in Baghdad but accepted that he was killed accidentally.

In a report contrasting in several details with the official U.S. account of the March 4 incident, Italian investigators rejected an American assertion that U.S. forces in Baghdad had not been informed of intelligence agent Nicola Calipari’s movements during a hostage-release operation.

The Italian report also said the speed of the car carrying the agent as it approached a U.S. checkpoint on the Baghdad airport road was “irrelevant,” according to the semiofficial ANSA news agency.

Mr. Calipari had just arranged the release by kidnappers of Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena and was escorting her to Baghdad’s airport for a flight home when the agent was shot by American troops at a checkpoint.

The Italian driver of their car “was not in a hurry to reach the airport, the road surface was wet, he knew that the curve of the [checkpoint] ramp was partially obstructed by three barriers and he was driving with one hand as he prepared to make a 90-degree turn because his other hand was busy with a cell phone,” ANSA quoted the Italian report as saying.

“The speed does not seem relevant insofar as there were no warning signals,” the report said, adding that the driver insisted that “at the moment when fire opened, the car was traveling at approximately [25 to 35 mph].”

The American troops had not issued warning signals and had “fired out of stress and inexperience,” the report said. It also said evidence at the scene had been removed, making a full investigation more difficult.

The report was diametrically opposed in many respects to the outcome of an American investigation, which found that the car had been traveling at speeds of at least 50 mph and that the driver had ignored repeated warnings to stop.

The disagreement was sure to fuel domestic opposition demands that Italy withdraw its 3,000 troops from Iraq, diplomatic sources said.

The Italian report said it was “plausible” that the U.S. chain of command was not formally aware of the specific content of Mr. Calipari’s mission, as the U.S. report had found.

But, the Italians said, it is “indisputably certain and confirmed” that the Americans were informed of the arrival of Mr. Calipari and another agent of Italy’s SISMI military intelligence service, and that they were “carrying out an institutional activity,” according to ANSA.

The report said the organization of the American checkpoint was “to say the least deficient,” but “the Italian representatives on the commission … have not found anything to suggest that the facts and matters that led to the tragedy were deliberate in any way.”

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is scheduled to address Parliament on the report on Thursday, but it was not clear what further steps might be taken by Mr. Berlusconi, who remains a close friend of President Bush.

Defense Minister Antonio Martino insisted the standoff would not permanently damage relations between Rome and Washington. “Certainly, no,” he replied to reporters’ questions.

U.S. Ambassador to Italy Mel Sembler said Mr. Calipari, who gave his life while shielding Miss Sgrena from the U.S. shots, was “a hero also for the United States.”

“We have lost a friend,” he said. “But this affair will not have repercussions on the relationship between Italy and the U.S.A. Relations between the two countries are strong and will remain strong.”

Italy and the United States conducted a joint investigation of the incident, but decided to issue separate reports when the two countries were unable to agree on the details of what had happened.

An opposition parliamentarian charged yesterday that the Italian investigators had been permitted only to observe the questioning of witnesses, not to ask questions themselves.

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