The U.S. general who commands all coalition forces in Iraq says he expects a joint U.S.-Italian investigation into what happened at a checkpoint near Baghdad airport Friday, when U.S. soldiers fired on the car carrying an Italian hostage freed by insurgents, and killed one of her security officers.
General George Casey says he has appointed a brigadier general to lead the American side of the investigation, and he was reluctant to comment on the incident until the probe is finished, a process he estimated will take three or four weeks.
He declined even to endorse the statement issued by his command late Friday, which said the vehicle carrying the Italians approached the checkpoint at high speed, and refused to stop for inspection. "That is one side of the story," he said. "And I think, if you read the papers just like I do, there is another side to the story. So that is why we want the investigation to look at both sides. In these cases, we normally give the investigating officer the job and he goes out and sorts through all these findings. I mean, I am sure you are hearing bits from all over the place. And that is why we do an investigation, to sort through all those things and tell us what happened."
Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, who was in the car after being freed from a month of captivity by kidnappers, has said the car was traveling at a normal speed and was not ordered to stop before the U.S. troops opened fire. A well-known Italian security agent, Nicola Calipari, was killed in the shooting after having secured Ms. Sgrena's release. The reporter and two other agents in the car were injured.
U.S. officials have expressed regret over the incident, but say they believe the troops at the checkpoint acted properly. The general said checkpoint procedures are well established for troops and civilians in Iraq, but he has asked for a review of those procedures. "Every time there is an incident like this, we look at it," he said. "We look at the procedures that were followed. We use those to adapt our procedures. And we continually try to upgrade this so that these things do not happen."
General Casey has asked for a review of all checkpoint incidents in the past six months. Those incidents include some in which suicide bombers attacked checkpoints, the type of incident the troops were apparently trying to avoid in Friday's shooting.
Italian officials have said they informed the United States that the car carrying the reporter and the security agents would be heading for the airport at that time. But in an exchange with reporter Barbara Starr of CNN, General Casey said he is not aware of any such communication.
Casey: "I, George Casey, have no information about that."
Starr: "The Italian government has said that they did."
Casey: "And I am saying that I, personally, have no information that that is the case. OK?"
Starr: "Would it have come to you if there was information? Would you know?"
Casey: "I would have hoped so."
General Casey said he has gathered some information about the incident, but he declined to share it, saying his view of the event is incomplete, and he wants to wait for the results of the investigation.