U.S. Military Whitewashes Killing of Italian Spook

The U.S. military released on Saturday a disputed report confirming it will not discipline troops who shot dead an Italian intelligence agent in Baghdad in a killing that strained ties between Rome and Washington.

Italy reacted to the report by listing its differences with the United States over the killing of the agent by U.S. soldiers two months ago as he tried to shield an Italian journalist whose release from kidnappers he had just secured.

The Italian foreign ministry said it would release its own report on Monday.

The 42-page U.S. report into the March 4 killing of agent Nicola Calipari and the wounding of freed Italian hostage Giuliana Sgrena found that the Italians failed to tell U.S. troops of their plans to drive into Baghdad airport and ignored warning lights intended to make them stop.

“The … investigation concluded that the vehicle approaching the checkpoint failed to reduce speed until fired upon and that the soldiers manning the checkpoint acted in accordance with the rules of engagement,” the U.S. military in Baghdad said in a statement accompanying the report.

Italy’s Minister for Institutional Reform Roberto Calderoli, making clear that he was giving a personal opinion, said: “If the U.S. troops really respected the rules of engagement … it means that the rules of engagement are wrong.”

The U.S. report estimated the car was traveling at approximately 50 mph as it approached the checkpoint and ignored two warning bursts from a machine gun manned by an army specialist of the New York State National Guard.

A total of about 40 rounds were fired in about four seconds and 11 hit the vehicle after the driver of the car ignored a searchlight and a green laser light aimed at it, it said.

“Specialist (name withheld) immediately dropped the spotlight. With both hands on the weapon (machine gun), he fired another burst, walking the rounds from the ground on the passenger’s side of the vehicle toward the car’s engine block in an attempt to disable it,” the report said.

It said the driver of the car, who was also wounded in the incident, did not slow down until the bullets began hitting the vehicle.

“Prior coordination might have prevented this tragedy,” Army Brig. Gen. Peter Vangjel wrote in his conclusion to the report, which included the finding: “Recommend that no disciplinary action be taken against any soldier in the incident.”

Vangjel said the Italian agents had kept their mission to free Sgrena secret from their U.S. allies, considering it a “national issue.”

Italian officials said earlier that the United States had been informed that Sgrena had been freed and that the car was headed for the airport.

Italy’s foreign ministry said: “The main aspects on which it wasn’t possible to reach joint positions concerned in particular the dynamics of the situation, the rules of engagement and the coordination with the relevant authorities in Iraq.”

The U.S. report, which was issued after U.S.-Italian disagreements blocked a joint one, was distributed by the American military in Baghdad. Vangjel recommended a number of technical changes — some of which were blanked out in the published document — to U.S. checkpoint procedures in Iraq.

The accounts were based on the testimony of the Americans and Italians involved. The U.S. report noted that proper examination by forensic scientists of the scene and the machinegun used had not been possible.

The White House in Washington had no immediate comment on the report and a senior U.S. defense official said that the military was handling the issue.

Opposition politicians in Italy had already condemned the findings which were leaked earlier this week. Calipari’s death put pressure on Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose sending of troops to Iraq was deeply unpopular, to withdraw the forces.

Vangjel said in a statement: “This was a tragic accident and MNF-1 (multi-national force) expresses its deepest sympathies to the Calipari family.”