- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 23, 2004

ROME — Italian military intelligence officers are hunting for an Italo-Iraqi man suspected of taking part in a deadly mortar attack on Italian forces in the Iraqi city of Nasariyah last month.

His identification could be the first confirmation of longstanding suspicions that some Italians have joined rebel forces in Iraq — possibly providing logistical and strategic planning for the abduction of four Italian hostages. One of the four, Fabrizio Quattrocchi, was killed before the three others were released.

A senior official in the SISMI intelligence agency identified the suspect as John Sawaka, born to an Italian father and an Iraqi mother, whose maiden name the suspect evidently uses as his surname.

Mr. Sawaka was identified after investigations by secret service and paramilitary Carabinieri officers along with American counterparts.

He worked as an “assistant cameraman” during a May 16 mortar attack on an Italian military convoy escorting the Italian governor of Nasariyah to the city’s provisional government building, La Repubblica newspaper quoted sources as saying.

Sixteen Italian soldiers were wounded in the bombardment at the climax of a three-day battle. Cpl. Matteo Vanzan, 23, a native of Venice serving in an elite marine regiment, died of his wounds.

Mr. Sawaka reportedly helped film footage from Shi’ite militia positions, including shots of blood shed by Cpl. Vanzan and other wounded Italian soldiers.

The footage was subsequently used to make a widely distributed propaganda video titled “The Lions of Dhi Qar,” a reference to the province where Nasariyah is located. The video is believed to have been directed by Anwar Jlood, owner of a book and video store who is known locally as “the librarian of Nasariyah.”

The killing of Cpl. Vanzan sparked outrage in Italy.

Agents probing the ambush began to suspect Italian involvement in the attack when they heard a voice on the video soundtrack say, in perfect Italian, “Vuoi vedere?” meaning, “Do you want to see?”

Italy’s vociferous antiwar movement has strongly opposed the nation’s deployment alongside American and other allied troops in Iraq.

Members of the Anti-Imperialist Camp — a radical movement that raises funds for the Iraqi insurgents at public rallies in Italy — have been linked to the Iraqi Patriotic Front, an Iraqi exile movement that claims to have hundreds of guerrillas fighting in Iraq.

Intelligence officials said Mr. Sawaka returned to Iraq from Italy to join the anti-American insurgency after Saddam Hussein was ousted.

The video, which he supposedly helped to make, shows militiamen loyal to Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr shooting mortar rounds at an Italian military base on May 14. About 100 militiamen sought to dislodge the Italian marines from the base and from a strategic bridge over the Euphrates River.

The Italians fought Sheik al-Sadr’s troops for three days before evacuating the forward base on May 16. Cpl. Vanzan died of his wounds on May 17 while being taken by ambulance to the main Italian base at Nasariyah.

Italian investigators said analysis of the propaganda video had also enabled probers to identify at least four Iraqi militiamen who took part in the attacks.

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