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US Soldier Goes on Trial in Rome for Killing an Italian in Iraq

A U.S. soldier went on trial in absentia Tuesday for the shooting death of an Italian intelligence agent at a checkpoint in Iraq two years ago. The case has strained relations between Rome and Washington. Sabina Castelfranco reports for VOA from Rome that the judge immediately adjourned the proceedings.

The trial against the American soldier Mario Lozano opened in a high security prison on the outskirts of Rome. The judge immediately adjourned the trial until May 14 for technical reasons.

The American is charged with the murder of Italian intelligence officer Nicola Calipari in Baghdad two years ago. The agent was shot on his way to Baghdad airport shortly after securing the release of kidnapped Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena. Sgrena was wounded in the incident.

The journalist was present at the proceedings Tuesday and said she hopes the trial will shed light on what occurred that terrible evening when she was freed but her savior was killed.

"I hope to arrive at least to a part of the truth of what happened at night on the 4th March 2005 in Baghdad," she said.

The U.S. and Italy have issued differing reports on the incident.

U.S. authorities have said the car was traveling too fast, alarming soldiers who feared a rebel attack. The U.S. has also said it will not extradite the soldier to Italy.

Lozano recently defended his actions in comments to the U.S. media. He said he was a soldier doing his job. He said he flashed a warning light to the car, telling it to stop, and that he first shot at the ground and then at the car's engine. He said he had no choice but to fire.

Sgrena disputes Lozano's version of events.

"It's not true that he shot not really against the passengers, because the experts found that against the car were shot 58 bullets and 57 were against the passengers and only one, the last one against the engine of the car, when the car was already stopped," said Sgrena.

The case has had a negative impact on Italian-U.S. relations. In Italy, much of public opinion opposes the Iraq war, and Italians were upset over the killing of the intelligence officer. Sgrena says those responsible must be held accountable, and Lozano was the person who fired.

"There is an individual responsibility, but I don't know if there were orders to do that," she said. "I can't say that because I don't know. That's why I think that the best way for Lozano to defend himself is to come to the trial and say what happened really for him."

Sgrena says Lozano's failure to appear in court and Washington's failure to cooperate in the case are an obstacle to justice.