- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 5, 2005

ROME — Italy demanded answers yesterday as freed hostage Giuliana Sgrena was brought home from Iraq after she was injured when American troops fired on a car taking her to the Baghdad airport. The Italian agent who negotiated her freedom was hit and died in her arms.

The shooting stoked anti-war sentiment in Italy, where the public was widely opposed to the government’s decision to send 3,000 troops to Iraq. President Bush promised a full investigation.

About 100 demonstrators outside the U.S. Embassy in Rome blocked traffic and one banner read: “USA, war criminals.” A few dozen communist demonstrators at the U.S. Consulate in Milan handed out leaflets reading, “Shame on you, Bush.”

Miss Sgrena, 56, a journalist for the communist newspaper Il Manifesto, was taken from the airport by ambulance to a military hospital in Rome, a day after undergoing surgery at a U.S. military hospital in Iraq to remove shrapnel from her shoulder. Doctors said late yesterday that another operation was not needed.

From her hospital bed, Miss Sgrena recounted the ordeal that unfolded shortly after she was released by insurgents after a month in captivity.

“We thought the danger was over after my rescue,” she told RAI News 24 television by telephone. “And instead suddenly there was this shooting; we were hit by a spray of fire. I was talking to Nicola … when he leaned over me, probably to defend me, and then he slumped over. That was a truly terrible thing.”

The slain agent, Nicola Calipari, 50, was the brother of a priest who serves on a Vatican advisory body, Vatican radio reported, and Pope John Paul II sent a message of condolence to the family. The Italian government awarded Mr. Calipari a posthumous medal of valor.

Italy said two other agents were wounded. One was seriously injured and remained hospitalized in Iraq, while the other returned on Miss Sgrena’s flight, Italian state television said.

Mr. Calipari’s body was flown back to Italy late yesterday. His coffin was carried out of the military plane wrapped in an Italian flag and blessed by his brother and a military chaplain.

The U.S. military, which has promised an “aggressive” investigation, said the car in which Miss Sgrena was riding was speeding as it approached a coalition checkpoint on its way to the Baghdad airport. American authorities said soldiers shot into the engine block only after trying to warn the driver to stop.

Miss Sgrena, who was interviewed by prosecutors at the Rome hospital, denied the car was speeding, news reports said.

The shooting dealt a new blow to center-right Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a strong Bush ally. Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini said he hoped Mr. Calipari’s death would not spark an anti-American backlash. “That would be the most underhanded way of marking the memory of this hero,” he told the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

Italians on the left and the right demanded answers.

“We have the right to know what happened … to have details and explanations,” said Romano Prodi, a former center-left prime minister and former European Commission president.

Mr. Berlusconi summoned the U.S. ambassador, Mel Sembler, to Rome. Mr. Bush called Mr. Berlusconi and expressed his regret, Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said Friday.

Miss Sgrena was abducted Feb. 4 outside Baghdad University. She told colleagues from her newspaper that her captors “never treated me badly,” ANSA reported. She also said a woman was among the abductors.

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