State funeral for Italian spy shot by US

Last updated at 14:25 07 March 2005

Italy has paid homage to an intelligence officer killed in Iraq by US forces, giving him a full state funeral that was tinged with anger over how he died protecting a freed Italian hostage.

Among the mourners was Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who sent Nicola Calipari on his fatal mission to Baghdad and is struggling to reconcile his fervent pro-US policies with demands for the truth from Washington over the shooting.

Hundreds of Italians lined the streets as Calipari's body was driven to the imposing basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels and Martyrsfor the funeral, which was shown live on television.

Soldiers provided a guard of honour and crowds broke into applause as the coffin, draped in the Italian flag, was carried aloft into the packed church.

"It is time to honour the heroic sacrifice of Nicola Calipari, without divisions, all together, without controversy. Let's leave the controversy outside," top government official Gianni Letta said in an address, fighting back his tears.

Calipari died from a bullet to the head as he threw himself over journalist Giuliana Sgrena when US forces opened fire on their vehicle just outside Baghdad airport on Friday.

Bullet wound

Sgrena, who had been freed minutes earlier by her Iraqi captors after a month in captivity, is recovering in a Rome hospital from a bullet wound to the shoulder.

Both Sgrena and an Italian secret service agent driving the car have denied US assertions that soldiers only fired on them after they had failed to heed signals to slow down, and also rejected claims that they had been speeding.

Sgrena, who writes for the Communist daily Il Manifesto, has suggested they were targeted because the United States opposes Italy's practice of negotiating with hostage takers.

"I think that the happy end to the negotiations may have bothered them. The Americans are against this type of operation," she told Corriere della Sera newspaper on Monday. "For them, war is war. Human life is worth little."

Anger across Italy

The Italian government has made clear that it will continue to support US President George W. Bush despite the killing and will not withdraw its troops from Iraq. But at the same time it is demanding those responsible for the shooting be punished.

"The alliance with the United States is not up for debate, likewise our military commitment to Iraq," Berlusconi was quoted as saying by Italian newspapers.

Nonetheless, there was anger across Italy, with officials rejecting the version of events given by the US military.

Nicolo Pollari, Italy's secret service chief, said in a funeral oration that everyone felt great pride for what Calipari had done, but also "a feeling of rage" for how he had died.


Calipari was married with two teenage children. He worked out of Berlusconi's office and was a highly experienced hostage negotiator who had secured the release of two Italian aid workers taken captive in Iraq last year.

His killing has cast a spotlight on widespread speculation that Italy is paying off hostage-takers.

Although the government denies paying ransoms, officials say off the record that money was paid to win Sgrena's freedom, with sums of $6million to $8million being mentioned in the press.

The United States and Britain, which have the biggest military contingents in Iraq, condemn such payments, arguing that they fuel the hostage trade.

Bush has promised Berlusconi, one of his closest allies in Europe, a full investigation into Calipari's death. The Italian prime minister is hoping for answers before he addresses parliament on Wednesday over the shooting.

In previous "friendly-fire" deaths, the Pentagon has not publicly admitted to any culpability on the part of US forces.

Italian ministers have rejected Sgrena's claim that she might have been deliberately shot at, but they fear any hint of a US whitewash will inflame anti-American sentiment in Italy.

"What has happened cannot be used as an alibi to revive anti-Americanism," said the powerful speaker of the lower house of parliament, Pier Ferdinando Casini.

"(But) friendship can never be servitude and for this reason we have to ask with determination to have the truth and clarity," he told La Repubblica newspaper in an interview.

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