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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 March 2005, 08:11 GMT
US media wary of shooting account
The US media have treated with care allegations by freed Italian hostage Giuliana Sgrena that the American military deliberately shot at her.

Giuliana Sgrena
Ms Sgrena has accused US troops of targeting her

But they have used the incident, in which Italian intelligence officer Nicola Calipari was killed, to highlight the frequency of shootings at checkpoints in Iraq and the anger that it has incited among average Iraqis.

Human rights groups have described the US military rules of engagement at checkpoints as too permissive.

But the US military defends its policies, saying that troops must be able to protect themselves in the face of widespread suicide bombings.

CNN reported that there was no advance warning that Ms Sgrena and Mr Calipari would be travelling down the dangerous road to the airport in Baghdad.

But questions remained as to whether there was some co-ordination between higher-level Italian and US officials that had not been communicated to the troops in the area.

CNN's Rome bureau chief Alessio Vinci said: "[Ms Sgrena] was not ruling out the possibility that the Americans may have targeted her on purpose, because the US opposed negotiating with kidnappers."

Next to the scandal of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, no other aspect of the American military presence in Iraq has caused such widespread dismay and anger among Iraqis, judging by their frequent outbursts on the subject
John Burns, New York Times

But he said she could not provide evidence to support her claims.

Retired US Army Colonel Jack Jacobs, an MSNBC military analyst, expressed great scepticism with respect to Ms Sgrena's claims that no warning was giving.

"It's hard to believe the Italian journalist," he said, and he added: "Without getting too political here, she works for a Communist newspaper."

And he said that no matter the rules of the engagement the driver of the car should have stopped when armed troops ordered it.

"At the end of the day, when armed troops tell you to stop, you are supposed to stop, or else they're going to shoot you up," he said.

R Jeffrey Smith and Ann Scott Tyson of the Washington Post wrote that the shooting was "one of many incidents in which civilians have been killed by mistake at checkpoints in Iraq, including local police officers, women and children, according to military records, US officials and human rights groups."

In many cases, it has emerged after the incidents that Iraqis who had been fired on were not suicide bombers or others involved in the insurgency.

And the US troops "did so while operating under rules of engagement that the military has classified and under a legal doctrine that grants US troops immunity from civil liability for misjudgement," the Post said.

Human rights groups have accused the US military of taking inadequate steps to protect the safety of civilians.

'Widespread anger'

John Burns of the New York Times said that the killing of Mr Calipari and the wounding of Ms Sgrena highlighted one of the most contentious aspects of the US military presence in Iraq.

"Next to the scandal of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, no other aspect of the American military presence in Iraq has caused such widespread dismay and anger among Iraqis, judging by their frequent outbursts on the subject," Mr Burns wrote.

The rules of engagement allow for US forces to open fire whenever they believe "their unit may be at risk of suicide bombings or other insurgent attacks", he added.

Average Iraqis say it is not clear to them what constitutes threatening behaviour - and they have called on the US military to launch a public information campaign to help cut down on the incidents.

US and Iraqi officials have no figures on the casualties, but there are several incidents at US checkpoints every day, according to reports compiled by Western security companies.

As in the case of Ms Sgrena, accounts vary widely in most of the checkpoint incidents.

However, unlike the politically sensitive incident involving the Italian journalist, few of the incidents involving Iraqi civilians are ever formally investigated, Mr Burns noted.

"The American soldiers know that circumstances erupt in which a second's hesitation can mean death, and say civilian deaths are a regrettable but inevitable consequence of a war in which suicide bombers have been the insurgents' most deadly weapon," Mr Burns wrote.

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