At a discussion held at the Socialism 2006 Conference at Columbia University last weekend, Italian journalist, Giuliana Sgrena, described her widely publicized ordeal as a hostage in Iraq, having been kidnapped by an Iraqi resistance group in February of 2005. After one month in captivity, she was released. But hours later, U.S. Military forces opened fire on the car she was riding in, as she and her escorts drove to Baghdad International Airport to take a flight home. The gunfire wounded Sgrena and the driver of the car, and killed her escort, Italian intelligence officer, Nicola Calipari. Sgrena asserted the inaccuracy of U.S. Military statements that claim the troops opened fire only after warning shots and commands to stop the car were ignored.

On March 4, 2005, after negotiations between Italian intelligence officers and her abductors were settled, Sgrena was released into the care of Calipari, who escorted her to a car while a US helicopter hovered above. According to Sgrena, as she and her escorts drove towards Baghdad International Airport, they were in touch with an Italian commander via cell phone who she believed was communicating with American troops at Baghdad International Airport. As they approached Route Irish, an infamously dangerous road leading to the airport, the commander told them to wait 20 minutes before proceeding. Twenty minutes later, as their car emerged from a curve in the road, Sgrena said, a US patrol on the side of the road "started to shoot immediately." When the shooting stopped, all three passengers had been wounded. As the troops approached the car, her driver got out and screamed, "We are Italians!" The troops led the driver away from the car and, Sgrena said, "surrounded him with weapons. " Calipari died within minutes. Sgrena was taken to a nearby hospital where, she said, "I was very worried to say I was a journalist."

The U.S. Military has argued that they received no advance warning that the Italians would be traveling on Route Irish. A statement released by the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division and published in the New York Times said that soldiers manning the Route Irish checkpoint tried, "to warn the driver to stop by hand-and-arm signals, flashing white lights, and firing warning shots in front of the car."

A declassified report, dated March 8, 2005, appointed by LTG John R. Vines, Commander of Multi-National Corps-Iraq, states that on the evening of the incident, soldiers were assigned to blocking positions along Route Irish until a convoy transporting the U.S. Ambassador to Camp Victory had passed and arrived at it's destination. The report is consistent with statements made by the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division, contending that the soldiers had no prior knowledge that the Italians would be approaching, that the car was speeding as it approached, and that the Italians were warned to stop before the soldiers opened fire on the vehicle. But the report also highlights some circumstances that led to an atmosphere of particularly high tension amongst the soldiers, and that could have impaired their judgment that night.

First, according to the report, "two days before the incident, two solders from the same unit [blacked out] were killed by an IED at [blacked out]. The commander [blacked out] lost a very close friend in that attack." Also, block positions along Route Irish are usually changed and rotated frequently, for security purposes. The soldiers that evening expected to remain at their particular block positions for no more than 15 minutes. But, "communications problems involving a unit new to the AOR caused soldiers to be left in position longer than expected." The report estimates that the soldiers remained at the same post for an hour and fifteen minutes, which was perceived as a dangerous security threat. Finally, "due to it being their first full day on the shift, [blacked out] soldiers lacked experience in issuing operational orders and in battle tracking security forces during execution of blocking missions."

After joint investigations with Italy, the United States has cleared the soldiers of any wrongdoing. But Italian prosecutors are continuing to investigate Spc. Mario Lozano, the soldier they believe shot and killed Calipari. Though Sgrena has suggested that the soldiers may have deliberately opened fire on her because the White House publicly opposes any negotiation with kidnappers in Iraq, she said at the Socialism 2006 Conference, "I don't want Mario Lozano to be used as a scapegoat. I just want the truth of what happened. What happened is because of the war. People involved are victims of war."

Sgrena has traveled to Iraq seven times since the beginning of the war. "Every time I went to Iraq," she said, "the situation was worse. I'm sure if I go back [again] it will be worse."

Giuliana Sgrena's new book, Friendly Fire, recounts her experience in Iraq. It will be released in September of this year.