Secret Agent Killing Generates Anti-American Sentiment in Italy
J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM) and Terry Waite (Former Beirut Hostage)
At the beginning of March, US troops in Iraq accidentally killed Italian secret agent Nicola Calipari, and shot Giuliana Sgrena, the Italian hostage he had just rescued. Recent reports that a US investigation has cleared its soldiers of any responsibility for the incident have deeply inflamed anti-American sentiment in Italy, and damaged the pro-American government of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
The shootings have angered Italians, who bitterly opposed the deployment of their troops in Iraq. Soon after the incident, embattled Prime Minister Berlusconi was forced to announce that Italian troops would start withdrawing from Iraq in September.
Mr. Calipari and Ms. Sgrena were traveling to Baghdad Airport when their Toyota Corolla was sprayed with bullets by US forces. Ms. Sgrena said intelligence officer Calipari died shielding her from American bullets. She claimed the shooting was possibly deliberate, a charge the US dismissed, calling the incident a "horrific accident."
Recent media reports claim a US investigation has completely exonerated its soldiers. The Italian press says the US military concluded the car carrying Calipari was speeding as it approached a temporary checkpoint in western Baghdad. US troops are reported to have used "hand and arm signals, flashing white lights and firing warning shots" to get the vehicle to stop. Ms. Sgrena rejects this version of events, stating that the car was not speeding and that there were no warnings before the soldiers suddenly opened fire. The dispute is putting tremendous strain on US-Italian relations.
The already shaky government of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been seriously weakened by the affair. He has been one of US President George W. Bush's staunchest European allies in the Iraq conflict, despite the war's extreme unpopular amongst Italians.
Prime Minister Berlusconi is not alone. The decision to support the US invasion of Iraq is still causing British Prime Minister Tony Blair considerable political damage. Blair is currently under intense attack from opposition parties which claimed he lied about the reasons for going to war. The political dramas in both Italy and Britain demonstrate that the Iraq issue is likely to continue to produce fallout in Europe.
A Former Hostage's Perspective
Former Beirut hostage Terry Waite, who spent fives years in captivity, gives his personal opinion on the incident and the Iraq War.
Sean Curtin: The freed Italian hostage Giuliana Sgrena, who spent a month in captivity in Baghdad, was accidentally shot shortly after her release by US troops at a checkpoint near Baghdad airport. The man who negotiated her freedom, Nicola Calipari, was killed in the same incident, shielding Sgrena from American bullets. What are your thoughts on this incident since you have been both a hostage negotiator as well as a hostage? Perhaps you can give some insights?
Terry Waite: I do not have the full details but as I understand it is just another classic example of awful bungling with the Americans actually shooting the hostage. What exactly is going on out there? It's just dreadful.
Sean Curtin: You have written that when you yourself were released from nearly five years of captivity, it was an extremely emotional moment. For this Italian, her moment of joy was turned into horror when her liberator was accidentally killed by the Americans. Do you think this will compound her trauma?
Terry Waite: When they released me, they put me in the boot of a car and drove me across to a Syrian intelligence officer who then drove me to Syrian Intelligence Headquarters. Just imagine if I had been shot at that point? I would be pretty mad I must say.
Iraq War alienated the Islamic community
Terry Waite also expressed his thoughts on the Iraq conflict and why he feels it has alienated many in the Islamic community.
Terry Waite: There is no doubt about it. Terrorism today is a tremendous problem. I happen to feel, and you may disagree with me, that we have brought some of those problems on ourselves.
First of all, I was against the invasion of Iraq and the way we carried it out. I do not believe that we should have done it in that way. You know the arguments, so I will not go over them again. I think that this action certainly made the situation much worse and brought people into the arena who would not necessarily have entered that arena in the past and made them more determined to engage in acts of terrorism.
I also believe that in so doing, and with some of our policies, we have to a large extent alienated far too many in the Islamic community. The people who can deal most effectively with Islamic terrorism are those who are practicing Islam itself. Terrorists thrive in situations in which they can have a degree of protection from local populations.
Although this is a very complex subject, one of the reasons why terrorism is on the decline in Ireland is because generally speaking the population now recognizes that acts of terrorism are not in their economic interest. Therefore, they do not provide the same shelter for terrorists that they did in the past. That is a generalization, but it is on the whole true.
What we have succeeded in doing in our government policies is alienating whole tracts of people. The problem with terrorists, which we see clearly in Northern Ireland and the IRA, is that they begin with political motivation. If their starting point is political motivation then what I do believe you have to do is to initiate political dialogue and talk on the political level. Try to see if some in their camp want a political resolution. These kinds of movement can quickly move from their original starting point of the political arena. Then what gradually happens is these terrorist movements attract extreme psychopaths. The psychopath who is not necessarily primarily concerned by the politics of the situation but is drawn in because he or she is psychopathic and will not care about who they kill or maim or what havoc they cause. When you are dealing with psychopaths, the situation soon gets out of hand. When it gets out of hand, you have the devil's own job of trying to deal with it.
I would say that in certain situations in Iraq, it is almost totally, but not completely, impossible for a Westerner to talk to some of the people holding hostages. I know that one or two Westerners were able to get through to them by using Islamic contacts, but reiterating what I said, we have made the situation much more difficult for ourselves. Frankly, I am not sure how things will be resolved. It is going to be a long time before things are unraveled.
Profile: Terry Waite
Terry Waite was the Archbishop Bishop of Canterbury's envoy when he went to Beirut in January 1987 to negotiate the release of several hostages being held there. He had previously been involved in successful hostage release negotiations. However, the American arms for hostages scandal, popularly known as the Iran-Contra affair, led to accusations that Waite was a CIA stooge. As a result, he ended up a hostage himself, being captured by the extremist Islamic Jihad group. He was held captive for 1,763 days, spending most of his five years as a hostage in solitary confinement. He was set free on 18 November 1991. After his release he wrote a bestselling account of his experiences, "Taken on Trust." He is currently a full time author and lecturer.
Terry Waite's comments were made at Chatham House (Royal Institute for International Affairs) in London on 23 March 2005