Sgrena Suggests She May Have Been US Target
Giuliana Sgrena, wounded when the convoy taking her to safety was riddled with bullets by a US patrol near Baghdad airport on Friday, said on Sunday she may have been a target because the US opposed negotiations with her kidnappers.
"Everyone knows that the Americans don't want hostages to be freed by negotiations, and for that reason, I don't see why I should rule out that I was their target," Sgrena (photo) told Sky Italia news channel on Sunday.
The comment comes amid fears that Friday's incident, in which Italy's top intelligence officer in Iraq was killed, could lead to a full-scale diplomatic rift between the two allies.
"The incident could have very serious political consequences," Italy's La Stampa daily said in a front page editorial. "The state of relations between the two governments, Italy and the United States, has suffered an immediate deterioration. Hour after hour, Washington's version given by the State Department immediately after the incident has begun to unravel," the influential paper wrote.
"The theory that an absence of coordination in Baghdad between the two allied commands and excessive secrecy by the Italians about their (rescue) mission led to the shooting near the airport, has faded. The Italian government said it had informed the United States about the very delicate operation which was about to begin. And the presence of an American colonel at Baghdad airport along with the Italian officers who were waiting for Sgrena and her liberators, demonstrates that the operation was being conducted in harmony," the newspaper said.
It said however that a ransom was "almost certainly" paid to the kidnappers, even though any payment was "very probably" opposed by the Americans.
Incident expected to intensify tensions
Sgrena, a 56-year-old correspondent for the Italian communist daily Il Manifesto, confirmed on Sunday that she had been voluntarily released by her kidnappers.
In an account for her newspaper, Sgrena paid tribute to Nicola Calipari, the Italian intelligence officer who was killed when a US patrol opened fire on the convoy taking her to Baghdad airport. During the burst of gunfire that killed him and left her with wounds to a lung, Sgrena said a warning from her kidnappers that the Americans would try to kill her came back to haunt her.
"I immediately thought of what my kidnappers had told me. They said they were committed to releasing me, but that I had to be careful 'because there are Americans who don't want you to go back'. When they told me, I though it superfluous and ideological. In that moment, for me, it almost became the bitterest truth," wrote Sgrena.
With most attention focused on the dramatic aftermath, little has been said about the circumstances of her actual release.
Sgrena's account in her newspaper made it clear however that no force was involved, and that her kidnappers drove her to an obviously pre-arranged handover point.
Washington has pledged a full inquiry into the incident and President George W. Bush has personally expressed his regret over what happened.
The incident is expected to galvanize opposition in the country to the government's recent decision to maintain Italy's 3,000-strong military contingent in Iraq. Much of the country opposed the original decision by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in June 2003.
Berlusconi told a press conference in Rome late Friday there were troubling questions that needed to be answered, and called in the US ambassador to Rome, Mel Sembler, to protest.
However, Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini said the following day that the incident would not affect the heretofore strong alliance between Italy and the United States.
Sgrena contradicts US version
The body of the dead intelligence officer, Nicola Calipari, has been repatriated to Rome and was to lie in state at the Vittoriano national monument on Sunday before a state funeral on Monday.
Italy's President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi hailed Calipari as a "hero" who had used his body to shield Sgrena after the US patrol opened fire. Sgrena was wounded in the shoulder and is still being treated at a military hospital in Rome.
The US military said their forces had given ample warning to the driver of Sgrena's car, which they said was approaching at speed when they opened fire, but that has been flatly contradicted by Sgrena.