Nur al-Cubicle

A blog on the current crises in the Middle East and news accounts unpublished by the US press. Daily timeline of events in Iraq as collected from stories and dispatches in the French and Italian media: Le Monde (Paris), Il Corriere della Sera (Milan), La Repubblica (Rome), L'Orient-Le Jour (Beirut) and occasionally from El Mundo (Madrid).

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Giuliana Sgrena Affair Concludes

The Bush administration has buried the Sgrena affair and has left Berlusconi to deal with Italian public and political discontent at home on his own. The "official story" from the Bush administration is that it doesn't want to demoralize US troops in the field with a public apology for the incident in which Italy's most experienced Middle East intelligence agent was killed.

The following article by reporter Maurizio Caprara appeared in the 13 April edition of the Corriere della Sera.


WASHINGTON. Our bilateral relationship has never been more solid, says Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini as he prepares for a series of meetings with officials of the Bush Aministration. His first meeting was on Tuesday with Vice President Dick Cheney.

But despite Bush's fondness for Berlusconi, there are a pair of issues which are rather complicated: the first is finding a common version to which both sides can agree in the reconstruction of the events of March 4th in Baghdad leading to killing of Italian intelligence officer Niccola Calipari by US troops. Mr. Calipari was the architect of the release of reporter Giuliana Sgrena from her Iraqi kidnappers.

The second issue concerns Abu Omar, the Egyptian imam of the 40th Street Mosque in Milan who was kidnapped from Italy in February 2003 and is now imprisoned in Egypt. The Italian press reports that the kidnapping was carried out by CIA agents and that this is the abduction being investigated by the Milan Public Prosecutor's Office. The outcome of the investigation may produce a delicate diplomatic situation.

The report of the Italian-American commission on the killing of Calipari is also due to be released within a few days--and this is what had prompted Mr. Fini's trip to Washington. The United States does not want to mete out punishment for the death of Calipari out of fear of resentment on the part of US troops in the field. Despite Mr. Bush's expression of regret last week in Rome, he does not feel that he owes any apology for the egregious behavior in the incident, which has now been defined as a military "accident"-- not a mistake. Faced with a choice between a court-martial for the troops involved in shooting at Calipari's car and the risk of resentment by the boys in uniform in Baghdad assigned to guarding certain objectives against suicide carbombs, Bush has made his preference clear: handing a reason to US troops to grumble is considered a danger to be avoided.

Fini will be received today by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, an ex-Defense Department analyst who in the past has worked with the CIA. It appears that a request for judicial assistance from the Italian judiciary to the US Department of Justice has gone unanswered.

Meanwhile, Calipari's car is to remain in Baghdad. It is not expected that the subject of the death of the SISMI intelligence officer nor the kidnapping of the radical Egyptian imam will be mentioned in official communiqués over the next couple of days. It is likely to fade into the background of major problems such as peace in the Middle East which are universally regarded as the most difficult to resolve.

Another problem is the reorganization of the United Nations; a topic covered Tuesday in talks between Mr. Fini and Kofi Annan in New York. China's intransigence on the ambitions of Japan currently suits Italy, which does not want to be the only defeated nation of WWII without a permanent seat on the Security Council. Fini urged the Secretary General to avoid implementing reforms without a "wider consensus". He also argued for appointment of Italian Emma Bonino as UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Fini told Annan that Mrs. Bonino enjoys the support of the majority in government and a wide swath of political and public opinion. Should the United States decide to back Mrs. Bonino, her chances will look brighter despite Mr. Annan's personal dislike for her. Mr. Fini is traveling with Italian MP Andrea Ronchi, a member of the AN (fascist) party.


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