Italy Rejects U.S. Version of Sgrena Shooting
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)