Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Baghdad Speeding Ticket 

Diplomatic crisis a'brewin', as Berlusconi himself rejects the U.S. version of the Calipari/Sgrena shooting:
U.S. military officials in Iraq had approved an Italian intelligence officer's mission to free a kidnapped journalist and were expecting their arrival at Baghdad's airport on Friday when U.S. soldiers opened fire on the Italians at a checkpoint, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Wednesday . . . .

Nicola Calipari, a senior intelligence officer familiar with working in Iraq, arrived with a colleague at Baghdad International Airport on Friday. Calipari spent 40 minutes contacting U.S. military authorities in charge of the airport to notify them of his mission and receive a safe-conduct document to move around the airport, according to the Italian leaders . . . .

With the inside light on, Calipari sat alongside Sgrena and made phone calls to superiors to report his success. One was to an Italian official who was standing next to an American colonel at the airport, the prime minister said Wednesday, addressing the Italian Senate.

Calipari "therefore warned the American military officials of their immediate arrival in the airport zone," Berlusconi said.

"Only a frank and reciprocal recognition of final responsibility" will assuage Italians' anguish over the shooting, "which was so irrational to us," Berlusconi said.

U.S. Army Gen. George W. Casey, the top American commander in Iraq, said Tuesday in Washington that he had been unaware on Friday that Italian officials had entered Iraq to rescue Sgrena and said he had heard nothing since to indicate the Italians had told U.S. forces of the car's route.

In a statement after the shooting, the Army's 3rd Infantry Division said the Italians' car was "traveling at high speeds" and refused to halt at a checkpoint despite attempts by U.S. soldiers to warn the driver to stop "by hand and arm signals, flashing white lights, and firing warning shots in front of the car."

Fini, citing testimony by the driver, also an intelligence officer, said Tuesday that the car was traveling at no more than 25 mph as the driver steered around concrete blocks. Fini said the driver was applying the brakes when the car was hit by gunfire that lasted 10 to 15 seconds.
Meanwhile, the Times of London is reporting that, two years after the invasion of Iraq, it has finally occurred to the Pentagon that trigger-happy American soldiers might profitably be taught how to recognize their allies:
US commanders were so worried that their men were shooting at the British because they failed to recognise the Union Jack or other distinguishing military markings that, in an unprecedented move, they asked the British Army to supply vehicles, men and flags to teach their soldiers what their allies looked like.

It is understood that the British supplied several “snatch” armoured Land Rovers, the most common vehicle used by British troops on patrol and senior non-commissioned officers, with Union Jacks, to instruct the Americans.

This was in addition to a detailed presentation already provided by the British for all incoming US troops, which outlines what a British soldier looks like, what type of vehicle he drives and what other coalition troops in southern Iraq drive around in.

When asked by The Times about the special anti-fratricide training, which was requested in January, a spokesman for US Army Forces Command at Fort McPherson in Atlanta, Georgia, said: “It is understandable we are doing this. We all want to reduce the number of friendly fire incidents. Checkpoints are very dangerous places. It has come into the headlines with the Italian and Bulgarian, but there are more incidents that do not get publicity and probably do not end so badly” . . . .

A British officer in Basra said: “The Americans can be pretty pumped-up. Sometimes they fire in broad daylight when we are travelling at two miles per hour, shouting that we are British out of the window and waving the Union Jack. If they shoot, our drill is to slam on the brakes and race in the opposite direction.”
(Thanks to our stalwart colleagues at Cursor for the Times link. Title gag courtesy of Antonia Zerbesias.)

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