- The Washington Times - Monday, April 25, 2005

A joint U.S.-Italian panel has completed an investigation of the accidental checkpoint shooting of an Italian intelligence officer in Iraq, with the American side wanting to clear U.S. soldiers of criminal wrongdoing.

U.S. officials say the two sides are still talking in an effort to release a unanimous report, but the Italian press is reporting that Rome is balking in the much-watched case that could alter that country’s political picture.

A Pentagon official said that the investigation is complete and that the report, which will be released by U.S. commanders in Iraq, is in the “final phases.”

The shooting occurred on the night of March 4, when Italian officials led by intelligence agent Nicola Calipari were spiriting freed hostage Giuliana Sgrena out of Iraq.

On a road leading to the Baghdad airport, U.S. soldiers opened fire after, they said, the car was speeding and failed to heed signals to stop. Mr. Calipari was fatally shot.

The killing ignited a political outcry in Italy, where Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is already under attack from opposition parties for backing President Bush in the war to topple Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

The Italian’s purported actions in the car that night fit a scenario taught by the Army of how a suicide car-bomber might attempt to attack a checkpoint.

Gen. George Casey, the top commander in Iraq, ordered two investigations — one into the shooting and a second into the procedures that U.S. troops follow at roving checkpoints.

Such roadside barricades are crucial in efforts to contain deadly attacks by Iraqi insurgents, officials said. They can be a hot zone for hostile fire, because soldiers are on constant guard against suicide bombers and other terrorist attacks.

The United States invited two Italians — a diplomat and a military officer — to sit on the investigative committee. Italian newspapers reported yesterday that the two are refusing to sign the report because the U.S. investigators have cleared the soldiers of criminal wrongdoing.

Hours after the attack, Italian officials disputed the U.S. soldiers’ version of events, saying the car was traveling at 30 mph.

The officials also said they had informed U.S. military commanders that Ms. Sgrena had been freed and that Italian agents were taking her out of the country. Gen. Casey has said the Italian government neither informed his command that it had freed Ms. Sgrena nor said it was taking her to the airport.

“The checks and the interrogations carried out in nearly two months of work didn’t succeed in healing the clash on the key point of the affair: the warnings given by the American military forces before shooting,” Milan’s daily Corriere della Sera said.

The Associated Press quoted U.S. Embassy spokesman Ben Duffy in Rome as saying, “We [are] still hoping for a combined report. We haven’t given up at that.”

The split on the panel comes as Mr. Berlusconi is leading an interim government and trying to rebuild his center-right parliamentary coalition.

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