Miscues at Roadblock in Iraq

An uncensored version of a U.S. military probe into an Italian's slaying cites lack of training, poor communication.

By Ashraf Khalil

Los Angeles Times

May 2, 2005

BAGHDAD — A U.S. military probe into the fatal shooting of an Italian intelligence agent in Iraq has found that the soldiers who opened fire had only recently been trained on how to conduct a roadblock, did not know that the Italians' car was expected along their stretch of road, and, because of a communications breakdown, were manning their irregular nighttime post long after they should have been.

According to an uncensored version of the Army's report on the March 4 shooting, which killed agent Nicola Calipari and wounded an Italian journalist whom he had helped free from hostage-takers, the soldiers had been ordered to block an onramp along the road to Baghdad's airport to allow safe passage of a convoy carrying U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte.

The report said the troops were asked to set up the roadblock around 7:15 p.m. and they "expected to maintain the blocking position no more than 15 minutes." Negroponte's convoy apparently passed by the onramp shortly after 8 p.m., but because of poor communications, the troops were still in place when Calipari's car approached just before 9 p.m.

The troops' immediate supervisors had arrived in Iraq just weeks earlier and March 4 was their "first full duty day," said the uncensored report, which was obtained by the Italian newspaper La Repubblica and published in full on its website.

As for the troops manning the roadblock, the 42-page report, prepared by Brig. Gen. Peter Vangjel, found that "there is no evidence to indicate that the soldiers were trained to execute blocking positions before arriving in theater." They were trained for 10 days in February by troops who were leaving Iraq.

The U.S. report exonerated the soldiers of any wrongdoing and said they acted according to established rules of engagement. That conclusion prompted a fierce reaction from Rome, and the Italian government is expected to publish a rebuttal to the findings today.

Two days before the incident, two soldiers from the same unit were killed by a bomb at a checkpoint, one of them a "very close friend" of the unit's commander, investigators found. The report also said the commander had repeatedly asked superiors for permission to dismantle the roadblock, because he feared leaving his troops stationary for a long period. Nevertheless, the report found the soldiers did not act rashly in opening fire.

Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, a senior military spokesman, said an error in formatting allowed censored portions of the report to be made public.