U.S. Report Clears Troops in Death of Italian Agent

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - The U.S. Army has cleared American soldiers in the death of an Italian intelligence agent in Iraq and recommended no disciplinary action following an investigation, according to a report released Saturday.

The investigation concluded the killing may well have been prevented by better coordination between the Italian government and U.S. forces in Iraq.

Nicola Calipari was mistakenly shot on March 4 soon after he had secured the release of Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena from Iraqi militants who had held her hostage for a month. U.S. soldiers fired on the Italians' vehicle as it approached a U.S. checkpoint near Baghdad's airport. Sgrena and another Italian agent were wounded.

The U.S. investigation concluded the vehicle had failed to slow down as it approached the checkpoint and the soldiers who fired at it had acted in accordance with the rules of engagement.

"This was a tragic accident," investigating officer Brig. Gen. Peter Vangjel said in a statement expressing "deepest sympathies" to the agent's family.

The killing outraged Italians, who consider Calipari a national hero, and caused friction in U.S.-Italian relations. Italy and the United States said Friday they had failed to agree on the circumstances of the shooting and each side would release its own version of events.

The U.S. report found Italy had not informed U.S. forces of the rescue mission, adding "prior coordination might have prevented this tragedy."

Lt. Gen. John Vines, one of the top two commanders of U.S. forces in Iraq, has approved Vangjel's recommendation that no disciplinary action be taken against any soldier in the incident, the statement said.

Large sections of the report were blacked out in the version released to the media Saturday.

U.S. and Italian experts had worked for more than a month on a joint investigation into the killing.

But from the start, testimony from the two survivors clashed with the U.S. military's account.

The U.S. report maintained the soldiers fired warning shots in the air, then shot at the engine block because the car was speeding. The survivors insist they saw the beam of a warning light virtually at the same time gunfire broke out. The surviving intelligence agent has also testified he was driving slowly.

The report noted that the soldiers were on their first full day at the checkpoint and had been instructed to look out for two suspected car bombs in the area. It also said that two soldiers in the same unit were killed by a roadside bomb two days before the incident. The commander of the company lost a close friend in that attack, it said.

The Italian experts were still writing up their report, which is expected to take a few days, a Foreign Ministry official said in Rome.

The ministry had no comment on the American report. But on Friday, Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini said Italy did not agree with the U.S. version of events. "The Italian government could not sign off a reconstruction of events that, in our opinion, does not capture 100 percent what happened," he said.

Italy has also launched a criminal inquiry into Calipari's death.

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