ROME – The Italian government came under pressure Tuesday from some of its own supporters to reevaluate Italy's troop presence in Iraq following conflicting reports on the killing of an Italian agent by U.S. soldiers in Baghdad.
Leftist opposition leaders have long urged the government to withdraw its 3,000 soldiers from Iraq, and those calls intensified Tuesday after an Italian assessment of the March 4 death of intelligence agent Nicola Calipari (search) differed from the U.S. finding.
But now political allies of conservative Premier Silvio Berlusconi (search) are raising questions.
Cabinet minister Roberto Calderoli (search) said an assessment of Italy's commitment was necessary.
"After having read the contents of the Italian report, I am more convinced that the majority and the government must reflect on the timetable for a return plan," the Apcom news agency quoted him as saying.
Calderoli was particularly concerned about reports that American forces might pull out by December. "I don't want them to come home before us," he was quoted as saying.
A member of Berlusconi's own Forza Italia party, lawmaker Raffaele Costa (search), also urged the government to undertake a "serious reflection" on the mission. "Is there a plan, or at least a vision of how and when we'll get out of Iraq?" he asked in a statement.
Their comments came the day after Italy published its version of a joint investigation into Calipari's death, a 52-page rebuttal to an American report that cleared American soldiers of blame.
Calipari was mistakenly killed soon after he secured the release of Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena and their car came under fire at a U.S. checkpoint on the road to Baghdad's airport.
American investigators said the car was speeding and didn't heed warning lights and shots, and they said better coordination between the Italians and Americans could have prevented the tragedy.
In its report, Italy said U.S. military authorities failed to signal there was a checkpoint ahead on the road and concluded that stress, inexperience and fatigue among the U.S. soldiers played a role in the shooting.
The Italian investigators found no evidence that Calipari was deliberately killed, and their report didn't object to many of the findings of fact contained in the American report. Still, they refused to sign off on the U.S. conclusion that the soldiers bore no blame.
In an indication that Berlusconi's government wanted to move beyond the incident, Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini issued a statement Tuesday stressing the "solid alliance" between Rome and Washington. He said that he had a "long and cordial" discussion with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and that both agreed efforts to rebuild a democratic Iraq must continue.
While Rice expressed sadness the two sides differed in assessing the incident, he said, "both sides repeated their conviction that this episode had not and will not put a historic bilateral relationship based on a deep-rooted communality of values, goals and objectives up for discussion."
Berlusconi was expected to repeat that line during an appearance before Parliament on Thursday to brief lawmakers on the case.
Berlusconi has said he hoped Italian troops could start coming home by September, although he said the decision would depend on the security situation in Iraq and would be made in agreement with the United States and other allies.