ROME – American officials in Iraq were told that an Italian intelligence officer was there to free a hostage — but only at the very last minute, shortly before U.S. troops opened fire on their vehicle, killing the officer and wounding the woman, Italian media reported Sunday.
Several Italian dailies cited a report now in the hands of Rome prosecutors by Maj. Gen. Mario Marioli (search), an Italian who is the coalition forces' second-in-command. In it, Marioli said U.S. authorities were aware that the agent, Nicola Calipari (search), and another officer were in Iraq, but only he knew why. He said Calipari had told him not to tell the Americans they were there to collect a hostage.
Italian media have speculated that the reason for not telling the Americans was due to U.S. opposition to Italy's policy of negotiating with kidnappers.
However, Marioli also said that he finally told an American officer with him at the Baghdad airport — a certain "Capt. Green" — after getting a call that the mission had been a success and that the two agents and freed journalist Giuliana Sgrena (search) were on their way back, according to dailies Corriere della Sera, Il Messaggero and La Stampa.
Calipari was killed March 4 when U.S. troops fired on the vehicle carrying him and the other two Italians at a checkpoint about 700 meters (766 yards) from the airport.
It is not clear how much time went by between the time when Marioli told the Americans about the mission and the shooting, or whether the tragedy could have been avoided if U.S. authorities had been better informed.
After the shooting, the U.S. military said that the vehicle carrying the Italians was speeding and refused to stop, and that a U.S. patrol tried to warn the driver with hand and arm signals, by flashing white lights and firing shots in front of the car and into the car's engine block.
Italy has said the shooting was an accident, but has also disputed parts of the account given by the Americans.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said the car was traveling slowly at night and stopped immediately when a light was flashed at a checkpoint, before U.S. troops fired on the car.
Sgrena has said that no light was flashed at the vehicle and that no warning shots were fired.
The U.S.-led coalition in Iraq has ordered an investigation into the shooting, with Italian officials' participation.