by MARIA SANMINIATELLI | AP/Yahoo! | 6 March 2006
ROME - The freed Italian hostage wounded by American troops at a checkpoint in Baghdad shortly after her release said in an article Sunday that her Iraqi captors had warned her U.S. forces "might intervene."
Giuliana Sgrena, who writes for the communist newspaper Il Manifesto, described how she was wounded and Italian intelligence officer Nicola Calipari was killed as she was celebrating her freedom on the way to the airport. The shooting Friday has fueled anti-American sentiment in a country where people are deeply opposed to U.S. policy in Iraq.
"I remember only fire," she said in her article. "At that point a rain of fire and bullets came at us, forever silencing the happy voices from a few minutes earlier."
Sgrena said the driver began shouting that they were Italian, then "Nicola Calipari dove on top of me to protect me and immediately, and I mean immediately, I felt his last breath as he died on me."
Suddenly, she said, she remembered her captors' warning her "to be careful because the Americans don't want you to return."
The U.S. military said the Americans used hand and arm signals, flashing white lights and fired warning shots to get the car to stop. But in an interview Saturday with Italian La 7 TV, Sgrena said "there was no bright light, no signal." She said the car was traveling at "regular speed."
Italian military officials said two other agents were wounded, but U.S. officials said it was only one. The agent who was killed, Calipari, had led negotiations for the journalist's release.
Sgrena returned to Rome on Saturday morning, looking haggard and with a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. She walked unsteadily and was hooked up to an intravenous drip following surgery to remove shrapnel from her shoulder.
She was taken to a Rome military hospital, where she later met with Calipari's wife, the Italian news agency Apcom said.
In her article, Sgrena wrote that her captors warned her as she was about to be released not to signal her presence to anyone, because "the Americans might intervene."
It was the happiest and also the most dangerous moment," Sgrena wrote. "If we had run into someone, meaning American troops, there would have been an exchange of fire, and my captors were ready and they would have responded."
Sgrena said her captors then blindfolded her and drove her to a location, where they made her get out of the car.
That's when she first heard Calipari's voice, she said.
"Don't worry, you're free," he told her.
Neither Italian nor U.S. officials gave details about how Sgrena managed to gain her freedom after a month in the hands of Iraqi insurgents.
An Iraqi lawmaker, Youdaam Youssef Kanna, told Belgian state TV Saturday evening that he had "nonofficial" information a $1 million ransom was paid for Sgrena's release, Apcom reported from Brussels.
The shooting came as a new blow to the center-right government of Premier Silvio Berlusconi, a strong ally of President Bush, who has assured him the shooting would be investigated. Tens of thousands of Italians regularly demonstrated against the Iraq war, and the Italian left — including Sgrena's newspaper — vigorously opposed the conflict.
Berlusconi, President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and Il Manifesto director Gabriele Polo joined Calipari's family at Rome's Ciampino Airport late Saturday before the agent's body was flown in shortly before midnight.
The coffin with Calipari's body was carried out of the military plane wrapped in an Italian flag and blessed by a military priest and the agent's brother, a priest who serves on a Vatican advisory body. Calipari's wife, mother and two children were also present.
The coffin was loaded onto a hearse and taken to the coroner's office in Rome. An autopsy began on Sunday, according to news reports. The body was expected to lie in state at Rome's Vittoriano monument, and a state funeral was planned for Monday.
Ciampi said he would award Calipari with the gold medal of valor for his heroism.
"What happened yesterday in Baghdad was a homicide," Polo told Apcom.
"The Americans must be firmly reminded to respect human and civil rules," the ANSA news agency quoted Mirko Tremaglia, minister for Italians abroad, as saying.
Sgrena was abducted Feb. 4 by gunmen who blocked her car outside Baghdad University.