March 06, 2005

Liberation & Inconsistencies 

As any informed people know, about one month ago Giuliana Sgrena, a journalist for the italian communist newspaper Il Manifesto was kidnapped in Iraq. The ordeal followed the usual pattern: a video with the Sgrena pleading for her life, and the withdrawal of the troops (things the she regularly wrote in her articles, by the way); her fellow leftists staging demonstration to plead to her captors and to ask the withdrawal of troops; and finally the release, for which a ransom may have been paid - I'll discuss this point later.

But this time, something went very wrong: while on their way to the Baghdad Airport, the car on which Sgrena and at least two Italian Secret Service agents were travelling come under the fire of an American patrol: one of the agents, Nicola Calipari died; another is seriously wounded and the thirs lightly wounded; Sgrena received a light wound on her shoulder too. The accounts of the incident differ wildly: Sgrena says that her car came suddenly under fire while travelling at a speed that in her opinion was low, and received 300 - 400 shots. In her words, the americans wanted to kill her because she was about to report the "atrocities" committed during the assault on Fallujah and other occasions - and because the americans do not approve of the negotiations policy in dealing with kidnappings. American sources instead report that the patrol spotted a car approaching at high speed, and following the usual Rules Of Engagement, they first flashed a white light towards the car, then fired warning shots and finally fired to stop the vehicle.

There are many aspects of this story that do not square well: first of all, if the Americans really wanted to kill Sgrena, she would not have survived. This is the first and foremost point: US soldiers are well competent, and there is no way they would fail to kill a soft target with no cover and no viable escape routes.

An AP photo and video show a car that is believed to be the car involved in the accident, and there is no way in hell that it took 300 - 400 rounds (of high-penetration military ammo). That car shows no more than a handful of small-caliber shots, and what is moderate-speed impact damage. The American patrol which opened fire is said to have been an "armored vehicle" that can be a Bradley, or a Stryker (even a LAV, but the Marines were not involved in this incident): all these vehicles mount at least the M60 or M240 7.62 mm machinegun (possibly a 5.56 mm SAW - there's quite a lot of variability), not to mention the venerable .50 M2, or the Bradley's rapid-fire 25 mm cannon. Even 300 rounds from the relatively puny SAW would reduce a non-armored car to a mess killing all of its occupants. 300 rounds of 25 mm are enough to tear down a concrete building.

I think there is no wrongdoing from the American patrol - I'm very confident that they just followed their ROE and opened carefully controlled fire against what looked like a threat.
What I have a hard time to explain is why Secret Service agents did not stop when warnings were issued. The only hypotheses I can form are: they did not realize that it was an American patrol, but they feared it was nasty guys instead, so they tried to force their way past it. Or, these Secret Service agents were under orders (or took the decision) not to stop for any reason while on their way to the airport. It is understandable that a secret service wants to keep its dealings secret, but in the Iraqi environment such a decision sounds rather stupid.

To straddle into the conspiracy field, some say that Sgrena may have set up the whole incident to appear as a victim of the Evil Americans. I am by no means a conspirational type, but there are many dark conrners and inconsistencies in the whole story: the versions differ regarding the number of people in the car, and their exact role; regarding the number (if any) of American checkpoints that the travellers passed without hindrance before the incident; regarding wheter the Coalition had been informed of the extraction operation or not. Not to mention that I do not trust so much Sgrena's words, given that she is declaredly anti-war and anti-american. Moreover, the autopsy of Calipari showed that he died of a single gunshot wound to the head: this does not correspond to a "hail of bullets" scenario. I could not find any mention of the caliber of the bullet (which was not retrieved), but surely it was a small caliber one - an probably slow: a .50 to the head will leave no head to speak of, and even a 7.62 mm is likely to cause pretty horrific damage.
The bullet entered from the back-right of his head to exit above the left ear - and probably it aslo glanced Sgrena's shoulder, or sent shrapnel into it.

To sum it up, it's like looking through a deep pool of murky water: I cannot see the bottom. It was either a screw-up of the Secret Service agents, or something even more weird happened - like a gun accident (apparently, when the vehicle stopped, the American soldiers confiscated the occupants' guns). This story deserves to be followed.

Regarding the negotiations/ransom policy, I can say I'm not very happy with it, but neither absolutely against. It means that the Italian government cares for the Italian citizens - as it must do. It can also mean that the Italians are trying to have it both ways, in a typical (but not really honored) Italian fashion. However, I do not agree with the point of view that a paid ransom is tantamount to a treason (of the USA and Iraq) or aiding the enemy. First, what the jihadis desperatelyt want is a political victory like they scored with Spain: in this case, the victory would be the Italian government caving in to the joint Islamist and Lefty pressure and withdrawing the troops from Iraq. Money is a small tactical victory of little importance. Moreover, is not that every cent of the millions of dollars eventually paid as a ransom will go into IEDs and such: a lot will be wasted in things like food, intelligence, bribery - and probably a hefty chunk will also reach the bank accounts of the "resistance" fat cats, who are more interested in money than in ideological purity.

LGF has quite a few threads about this story; as Cold Fury does.

Update 7/03: Another job of lousy, misleading information from AP: the car in the picture IS NOT Sgrena's car (although the video suggests so). The car involved in the incident was a Toyota Corolla, of which there are no images available. The Carabinieri major who drove the car declared that the American patrol flashed a white light towards them, and suddenly opened fire for a duration of up to ten seconds. This may amount to 300 rounds, but I still find hard to believe that of so many bullets only one hit a target. Well, maybe if most of the shots were accurately aimed at the engine block, with a lot of good luck. I am more inclined to trust the words of a serviceman, so my take on this episode is that the patrol opened fire on the target without ordering the car to stop and firing warning shots. Mind you, I think that such a behaviour is understandable, considering the threat of vehicle-born IEDs (car bombs); it remains to be seen whether those soldiers followed strictly their ROE or not. Another still obscure point is what information on the mission was passed to the Coalition forces by the Italian Secret Service.


Great post, Fabio. I just translated the last paragraph of the Corriere article you linked to in a thread on LGF and gave you credit for it. Also noteworthy, in my mind, is the disagreement between the Carabiniere and Sgrena on the existence of informal roadblocks on the way to the airport. It will be interesting to see how it plays out to say the least.

Ciao Fabio...Someguy was kind enough to point me to your blog. I share your skepticism, as do Panorama, informazionecorretta.it, and now, surprisingly, Il Coriere.
Despite Fini's harsh inquiries, I don't think the story will have a great ending for Sgrena. (I would have added La Strega but I'm being good).

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