The Giuliana Sgrena Incident: Italian Version
Below is the account published on Saturday 5 March in Il Manifesto, the paper for which Giuliana worked:
Bradley armored vehicle fires 400 rounds at vehicle carrying Giuliana Sgrena
They thought they had made it. They were on the access road to Baghdad Airport, approaching a US checkpoint in the least dangerous part of their journey. Then, around 9:00 pm Baghdad time, the SUV belonging to the Italian intelligence services was lit up by a spotlight. Simultaneously, a hail of machinegun fire swept the the vehicle transporting Giulian Sgrena to freedom. One of the SUV's passengers who was wounded in the incident reported that the intensity of fire was heavy. It was an execution. It is likely the bullets came from the Bradley vehicle, not from the checkpoint ahead. Inside the SUV, Italian intelligence agent Nicola Calipari threw himself over Giuliana Sgrena, seated next to him. He received the full brunt of the machinegun burst and was killed on the spot.
Before dying, Calipari had made three trips to Iraq: on Monday 14 February he returned to Rome with a video of Giuliana which was broadcast to the world two days later by AP Television News. On 20 February, he flew to Rome with a handwritten letter to fellow reporter Pier Scolari dated 19 February, the date of a mass turnout in the streets of Rome demonstrating for the release of Giuliana. Along with her watch and personal documents, her Green Zone pass was delivered to Scolari, proving that she was still alive. Only then did the Red Cross receive an audio file with the voice of the hostage dated 25 February.
The bullet which wounded our correspondent was removed by surgeons last night. The same bullet had passed through the chest of Calipari, the ex-police officer who for the last month had shuttled back and forth between the Persian Gulf and Rome and who personally coordinated and managed contacts involved in the release of Giuliana. The same man who for thirty long days shared our hopes, our fears, the long wait and our concerns about the kidnappers and the negotiations to release Giuliana.
Last autumn, Calipari had labored to obtain the release of Italian hostages Simona Pari and Simona Torretta. It was Calipari's work which got results, even though it was Red Cross Director Maurizio Scelli who was there to receive Pari and Torretta. Last night this 50 year-old hero was slain after getting the job done once again. Giuliana Sgrena was seated right next to him. He died to save her. One of his colleagues, a Carabiniere major, was wounded and is in serious condition after a bullet pierced his lung.
The Americans fired nearly 400 rounds at the Italians. The other wounded passenger, an Italian Army officer, was able to place a call by cellphone to the headquarters of Italian intelligence in Rome. In Italy, it was 7 pm. The call was answered at Palazzo Chigi where Il Manifesto owner Gabriele Polo and reporter Pier Scolari had just arrived. Reuters and al Jazeera had just reported the release of Giuliana and Palazzo Chigi had received received an earlier confirmation from Calipari. It's true, she has been release and is with us. The rejoicing at the offices of Il Manifesto was short-lived. The wounded Italian Army officer was able to talk only for a few seconds, barely enough time to utter, They opened fire on us at a checkpoint. Calipari is dead.... before American troops cut short the communication. As Giuliana and two intelligence agents lay wounded by "friendly fire" and Calipari was slumped over dead, Cabinet Undersecretary Gianni Letta and Silvio Berlusconi made a phone call to the Americans. A few minutes later, a US official phoned back to say that the Americans were taking the wounded to a hospital. They opened fire by mistake. This was the first version of events from our "powerful ally" which circulated in Rome.
The official but only partial story arrived a few hours later, after Silvio Berlusoni had summoned the US Ambassador demanding that reponsibility be taken for the incident. Col. Mike Caldwell, spokesman for the Multinational Forces in Iraq, admitted that Sometime around 20:55 (Baghdad time) Coalition forces opened fire on a vehicle approaching a checkpoint at high speed. Reporter Giuliana Sgrena, who had just been released, was travelling inside the vehicle. So it seems they killed someone for exceeding the speed limit. The circumstances surrounding the incident are for the moment unclear, continued Caldwall, Ms. Sgrena is now being treated by Coalition medical personnel. An investigation of the incident has been opened. The Rome Public Prosecutors office has also opened an investigation. Had it been an Iraqi to open fire on the Italians, it would be considered an act of terrorism.
Il Corriere della Sera reports today that the "checkpoint" in question was hastily erected on Friday night to "protect" Ms. Sgrena. The paper quotes the Washington Post as saying US military officials were informed that the vehicle carrying Italian intelligence personnel would be arriving.
Now this is very strange and sounds like military doublespeak to me. Calipari had just made a cellphone call to Rome minutes before the incident. Based on what we are told about US intelligence, they had to be listening in on that call and should have been able not only to pinpoint the location of the vehicle but to track its progress. Although Scottie McClellan claims it's absurd that the US was gunning for Sgrena, the sequence of events suggests otherwise. And there is a nasty precedent...the US bombed a convoy carrying the French reporters Malbrunot and Chesnot after a release deal had been struck.
Update: Gee, what nice folks in our military
18:35 Sgrena: Accusations and insults on US military blogs. [La Repubblica dispatch]
Accusations and insults have been heaped on Giuliana Sgrena for her comments concerning the actions of members of the US military after the incident in analyses of the shootout at the Baghdad checkpoint. Conspiracy theories abound claiming Sgrena was never kidnapped. Comments are pouring in at blogs where US soldiers may post anonymously on the Sgrena-Calipari incident.
I am thinking that she is pissed that her driver fucked up and her vehicle got lit up, writes American Soldier, one of the most popular bloggers on Iraq who maintains an anonymous identity. She is lucky if anything. Yes it would have been more of a tragedy if she was killed but even then the bottom line is her vehicle was making an aggressive move towards that US Patrol. PERIOD!... We are trained to make sound judgments and follow the ROE...However we could ‘what if’ all day. That is a war zone and people die...I would have done the same thing if faced with the same scenario. I would have done exactly what I was trained to do.
Several other soldiers both in service in Iraq or rotated home have commented on the blogs on how dangerous the airport road is and don't hide their anger at Sgrena. A few, like the author of the The Jawa Report, continue to report that she either faked her own abduction or became an accomplice after the fact with her jihadi captors.
I should write La Repubblica and tell them that these fellows are high-fiving LGF buddies.
Update: More on "professional" military behavior.
After being wounded, Ms. Sgrena was pulled out of the car by US soldiers and forced to kneel. The Carabiniere major had his service weapon and his cellphone confiscated by same, even though the group was in possession of a pass of safe conduct issued by the Americans.