Italy Rejects U.S. Version of Sgrena Shooting

Italy Rejects U.S. Version of Iraq Shooting (Reuters)

Italian hostage Giuliana Sgrena, shot and wounded after being freed in Iraq, said Sunday U.S. forces may have deliberately targeted her because Washington opposed Italy’s policy of dealing with kidnappers. She offered no evidence for her claim, but the sentiment reflected growing anger in Italy over the conduct of the war, which has claimed more than 20 Italian lives, including the secret agent who rescued her moments before being killed.

Friday evening’s killing of the agent and wounding of the journalist, who worked for a communist daily, has sparked tension with Italy’s U.S. allies and put pressure on Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to take a hard line with President Bush.

The United States has promised a full investigation into incident, in which soldiers fired on the Italians’ car as it approached Baghdad airport Friday evening. The U.S. military says the car was speeding toward a checkpoint and ignored warning shots, an explanation denied by government ministers and the driver of the car.

Speaking from her hospital bed where she is being treated, Sgrena told Sky Italia TV it was possible the soldiers had targeted her because Washington opposes Italy’s dealings with kidnappers that may include ransom payments. The United States doesn’t approve of this (ransom) policy and so they try to stop it in any way possible.” According to Italy’s leading daily Corriere della Sera, the driver, an unidentified Italian agent, said: “We were driving slowly, about 40-50 km/h (25-30 mph).”

Addendum (0844): Italian Calls U.S. Gunfire Unjustified (WaPo, A18)

An Italian journalist freed from captivity in Iraq said Saturday that a “rain of fire” from a U.S. roadside patrol hit her vehicle as it slowly approached the airport in Baghdad, injuring her and killing an Italian intelligence agent also inside. Her version of events ran counter to the one U.S. officials provided a day earlier. Giuliana Sgrena, wearing a plaid shawl draped around her shoulders, was helped down the steps of an airplane at Rome’s Ciampino airport after arriving from Baghdad Saturday at noon. She later described the shooting and called the U.S. gunfire on the vehicle unjustified. “We weren’t going very fast, given the circumstances. It was not a checkpoint, but a patrol that started firing right after lighting up a spotlight. The firing was not justified by the movement of our automobile,” Sgrena, a reporter for the Communist newspaper Il Manifesto, told Italian investigators, according to an account related by an official who interviewed her at a military hospital.

A statement released Friday by the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division in Baghdad said troops fired because the car was “traveling at high speeds” and “refused to stop at a checkpoint.”


U.S. officials said the Italians failed to inform military or diplomatic officials that Sgrena was on her way to the airport. Nighttime is particularly dangerous on the airport highway, which has been the scene of numerous car bombings and ambushes of U.S. troops, foreign contractors and other travelers. Berlusconi called in Sembler and demanded that the United States “take responsibility” and acknowledge a “tragic error.” Italian prosecutors are preparing to officially ask the United States for information about the shooting.

(Original) We now have two basic stories.

1. The rescue team, speeding away after their escape from Sgrena’s captors, was rapidly driving toward a U.S. checkpoint. Because of language barriers, adrenaline, fear, darkness, and the fog of war, the driver failed to see or understand the soldiers’ signals. The soldiers, fearing it was a terrorist attack, shot at the vehicle.

2. The U.S. government, irritated because one of its few Iraq War allies in Continental Europe ransomed a hostage, decided to teach them a lesson by staging a massacre, heedless of the inevitable diplomatic fallout.

Which of these seems more plausible?

Update (0833): Amusingly, I just checked my mail and a reader, Jim, had made a very similar observation on my previous post on this issue:

Let’s see there appears to be two major versions of what happened. Let’s see what is more plausible:

1) An Italian car was speeding towards a check-point and the US troops after being subjected to a series of VBIEDs tried to warn the car to slow down and when that failed fired into the vehicle.

2) The CENTCOM was so afraid of this Italian journalist that they issued orders to all the logical checkpoints to shoot-up the car carrying her (assuming they have good intel on the make, color and model). When the car does show up, instead of killing everyone in it, the troops decide to go half-way leaving the target wounded but alive. Then in a sign of incredible disclipine, no one in the entire chain of command tells the press.

Any other theories? (I know the one Air America chose)


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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. ken says:

    James, you really are an idiot here. The ‘rescue team’ was not speeding away following a heroic escape – they where driving to the airport after having successfully negotiated the captives peacefull release. They had already passed through a couple of US checkpoints before they were shot at probably by a trigger happy patroll. There is no excuse for this crap.

    This is like the murder of the wounded prisones of war. They first surrendered to one group of Americans, then they were shot and wounded by another group of Americans, then, minutes later, they were shot and killed by yet another group of Americans.

    It seems the only people in Iraq who are not open targets for American soldiers are other American soldiers.

  2. Sgt Fluffy says:

    “Italian hostage Giuliana Sgrena, shot and wounded after being freed in Iraq, said Sunday U.S. forces may have deliberately targeted her because Washington opposed Italy’s policy of dealing with kidnappers.”

    If the US HAD targeted her for extermination…..She wouldn’t be talking right now. Let Loose the flying monkeys!

  3. John Anderson says:

    “They had already passed through a couple of US checkpoints…”
    Er, uh, Sgrena has been quoted as saying they had gone through NO checkpoints. But then, she was also quoted as saying it was a patrol, not a checkpoint: oh? On what basis?

    She also says that the driver was shouting “We’re Italian”: in an air-conditioned car? OK, it may have been simple panic on the part of the driver to not hit the brakes. One account noted that it had been raining – perhaps he skidded?

  4. hj says:

    I’ld say Americans had all the rights to shot her. Cause they rule Iraq and the world. …idiots!

  5. JakeV says:

    Well, Scolari and Sgrena are being total idiots by claiming that this was a purposeful shooting, and there’s no shortage of idiots ready to follow them.

    However your “two basic stories” summation is tendentious. You seem to be excluding the possibility that while the shooting was accidental (an obvious truth for anyone who isn’t consumed with irrational and ignorant America-hatred), the car wasn’t really “speeding towards a checkpoint” and didn’t receive appropriate warnings– i.e., that this was an unfortunate, if understandable under the circumstances, error on the part of US troops. Is that not possible?

    Have you forgotten about other instances where the official military version of an event was wrong– like Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman? Have you forgotten about other incidents that clearly weren’t the fault of those killed– like that time the US plane clipped the Italian ski-lift?

    This “two basic stories” idea isn’t nearly as stupid as the garbage being spouted by Scolari and Sgrena, I’ll say that much for it. But it hardly bespeaks an open-minded and thoughtful attitude about this incident.

  6. Ralph says:

    This whole story stinks of red herrings. If it is true that Italy paid ransom for this woman’s release, what is Italy doing? What kind of ally gives money to the enemy? Can there be any doubt but that the enemy will use this money to buy more things that go bang?

  7. LJD says:


    Yeah. Right. A bunch of guys out looking for a car to fill full of lead, just for kicks.

    Perhaps you would like to sit on a checkpoint, perhaps one of the most diffiuclt jobs in the world, not knowing who has a car packed with explosives.

    You really are a jerk; move out of my country.

  8. says:

    I think I’ve read just about everything Miss Giuliana Sgrena has said on this story thus far. Does anyone know when the final draft will be released?

  9. Lance says:

    I’ve read many “quotes” attributed to Sgrena. Frankly,I believe the vast majority of these are at best paraphrased. One of the first that I read-if true-is very telling to me.

    “they shouldn’t have stopped us because we were not speeding”

    To me, this statement displays utter contempt for the authority of ANY military or police personel to stop ANY car or person at ANY time or ANY place for ANY reason.

    I find it implausible that she and her companions were ignorant of this REALITY.

  10. mrybill says:

    This comment is not about the shooting, but about the curious circumstances regarding the hostage-taking and ransom.
    It’s clear that the Italians taken hostage thus far (Sgrena, and the two Nicolas earlier) were all true believers in the “insurgency” and were doing what they could to promote it. One might think that would make them unlikely hostage targets to begin with – but if they knew their government would pay a large ransom for their release if they were kidnapped, and they believed no harm would come to them from the terrorists…wouldn’t arranging your own kidnappings make sense?
    Evidence? None that I know of. But this makes more sense than a lot of the theories I’ve seen floating around.

  11. Luciano says:

    I’m proud to be ITALIAN. I’m proud that in my country there was a man like the agent Calipari. He has given his life for the journalist Sgrena and you must respect them, together. Are you not shy for this war? Do you have culture enough to understand what’s happening?
    To the persons writing such words in the post, i would like to tell that they have a very dirty conscience and they are like murders.