BAGHDAD, Iraq, Saturday, March 5 - American soldiers guarding a checkpoint here
fired Friday night on a car carrying a kidnapped Italian journalist who had just
been freed, wounding the journalist and killing an Italian intelligence agent,
according to American and Italian officials.
The Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, said in Rome that the intelligence
agent had been instrumental in negotiating the release of Giuliana Sgrena, the
abducted journalist. Two other intelligence agents in the car were injured in
the shooting, Mr. Berlusconi said.
The car carrying the Italians approached a checkpoint "at a high rate
of speed" at 8:55 p.m. local time, the military said in a statement. A
Pentagon spokesman said Ms. Sgrena was being brought to Camp Victory, the American
command headquarters near Baghdad International Airport, along one of the most
dangerous roads in Iraq.
A State Department official in Washington said that an American hostage coordinator
in Iraq had not been informed of Ms. Sgrena's release. The military did not
know the hostage was in the car, the official said.
Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said that soldiers flashed white lights,
used arm and hand signals and fired warning shots as the car approached them
at high speed, and fired at the car only when it did not slow down or stop.
Insurgents regularly detonate roadside bombs and shoot at military and civilian
vehicles along the five-mile road. American soldiers across Iraq are wary of
speeding cars approaching checkpoints or convoys.
President Bush, who visited New Jersey and Indiana today, called Mr. Berlusconi
from Air Force One to express "regret" at the incident, the White
House spokesman, Scott McClellan, told reporters traveling with the president.
"The president assured Prime Minister Berlusconi that the incident will
be fully investigated," Mr. McClellan said.
A senior military official in Baghdad said the checkpoint where the shooting
took place was being operated by the 10th Mountain Division. The 69th Infantry
Regiment of the 42nd Infantry Division, a National Guard unit, is also responsible
for securing the airport road.
The intelligence agent who was killed, Nicola Calipari, had hurled himself
atop Ms. Sgrena to protect her, Ms. Sgrena's editor, Gabriele Polo, told Apcom,
an Italian news agency.
The American military said Ms. Sgrena, 56, was being treated by American military
doctors, though it did not say whether she was still in Baghdad or had been
moved elsewhere, possibly to Europe. People seriously wounded here are often
treated at a military hospital in the heavily fortified Green Zone on the west
bank of the Tigris River and, if needed, flown on a C-130 transport plane to
The shooting places the American and Italian governments in an extremely awkward
position. Mr. Berlusconi has staunchly supported the American-led invasion of
Iraq despite its unpopularity in Italy, keeping 3,000 Italian troops in this
country even as protesters have flooded the streets of Rome.
The number of Italian troops is tiny compared to the American or even the British
presence here, but Italy's commitment is symbolically important for President
Bush: It shows that at least one leading Western European country is still willing
to wage the war alongside the Americans.
It is almost certain that the shooting will ignite another round of antiwar
protests in Italy, with Ms. Sgrena's left-wing newspaper, Il Manifesto, possibly
leading the charge. There will no doubt be demands that Mr. Berlusconi respond
aggressively to the shooting and withdraw all Italian troops from Iraq.
Indeed, Friday's turn of events, from early relief over the release of Ms.
Sgrena to the shock of the shooting as she was on her way home, seemed to emotionally
"On this great joy has fallen an enormous grief," Mr. Berlusconi
said at a news conference in Rome. "We were turned to stone when the officials
told us about it on the telephone."
After hearing of the shooting, Mr. Berlusconi demanded to see the American
ambassador in Rome, Mel Sembler.
"Given that the fire came from an American source I called in the American
ambassador," Mr. Berlusconi said. "I believe we must have an explanation
for such a serious incident, for which someone must take the responsibility."The
shooting raises questions about the rules of engagement under which American
soldiers are operating here, particularly on roads frequented by civilian vehicles.
The American military has never released statistics showing how many incidents
have taken place in which American troops have fired on innocent vehicles. But
such incidents - including ones resulting in deaths - have taken place in recent
months, and have been documented by reporters and photographers embedded with
In January, soldiers with the 25th Infantry Division fired on a car carrying
seven Iraqis - five of them children - after the driver ignored warning shots
intended to dissuade the car from approaching an American patrol in the northern
town of Tal Afar. The children's' parents were killed, and one child was injured.
Photographs of the incident showed the surviving children covered in their parents'
On Feb. 5, American soldiers at a checkpoint fired three shots into a truck
carrying Western contractors on the airport road in Baghdad, according to an
unclassified American government report. The truck had been approaching the
checkpoint at 6 miles an hour when the shooting began. Though the truck took
two shots to the side and one to the windshield, no one was injured.
Italian and American officials did not give any explanation of how Ms. Sgrena
had come to be freed on Friday and traveling in a civilian car to Camp Victory,
unaccompanied by an American escort.
Ms. Sgrena was abducted on Feb. 4 after she had finished conducting several
hours of interviews with refugees from the decimated city of Falluja who were
at a mosque on the grounds of Baghdad University. Gunmen pulled up in front
of Ms. Sgrena's car as she was leaving and dragged her into their vehicle. Her
Iraqi employees somehow managed to escape.
Two weeks later, Ms. Sgrena's captors released a video showing her pleading
for her life and asking for the withdrawal of all the American-led forces. The
words "Mujahedeen Without Borders," presumably the name of the group
holding her, appeared in digital red Arabic script on a backdrop.
Ms. Sgrena had filed many stories harshly criticizing the American war here,
but had also written of the shortcomings of Islamic fundamentalism.
At least 200 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq, generally by criminal
gangs looking to sell the hostages back to their companies or countries. Most
have been released unharmed, but at least 30 have been killed. One was a freelance
Italian journalist, Enzo Baldoni, who was kidnapped last August while driving
from Baghdad to cover an uprising in the holy city of Najaf.
At least 27 journalists, including Iraqis, have been abducted, according to
the Committee to Protect Journalists. Still being held is Florence Aubenas,
a longtime war correspondent for the French newspaper Libération. Her
captors released a video earlier this week showing Ms. Aubenas pale and emaciated,
and she said herself that she was physically and mentally unwell.
Last September, the Italian public had to cope with an intense hostage ordeal
after armed men here kidnapped two Italian aid workers, Simona Pari and Simona
Torretta, both 29, in an audacious daylight raid. The two women were released
after three weeks. They said they had been treated well by their captors, and
Ms. Torretta later told reporters in Rome that the insurgency was legitimate
resistance to an occupation.
Edward Wong reported from Baghdad for this article, and Jason Horowitz from
Rome. Additional reporting was contributed by James Glanz from Baghdad, Kirk
Semple from London and Steven R. Weisman and Thom Shanker from Washington.