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March 12, 2005
Italy Retreats Further On Sgrena

The Times of London reports in tomorrow's edition that the Italians have agreed to stop paying ransoms to kidnapers in Iraq, a policy change that brings Rome into line with other Western nations. In further developments, an Italian parliamentarian indicated that despite earlier assertions that the Americans had been alerted to Sgrena's release and Calipari's itinerary, the Italians never got clearance for their vehicle:

THE Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has promised President George W Bush that he will not pay more ransoms to free hostages in Iraq.

The Italian government has denied newspaper reports that $6m (3.1m) was paid for the release of Giuliana Sgrena, who worked for the Communist daily Il Manifesto. But senior officials and intelligence sources have confirmed that money did change hands. ...

Last year Italy paid a reported $5m (2.6m) for the freedom of two aid workers, Simona Pari and Simona Torretta. Hours after Sgrena was seized, Berlusconi announced that negotiations had begun.

The reports of ransom payments have infuriated American officials, who say they fund violence and encourage more kidnappings. Mel Sembler, the American ambassador in Rome, told Berlusconi last week that the money bankrolled the war being waged by Sunnis in Iraq.

Western nations had mostly agreed not to negotiate with terrorists in general decades ago, which is why our negotiations in Beirut with the Iranian-backed hostage takers during Reagan's term rightly generated so much outrage. Since 9/11, we have adamantly opposed cutting deals of any kind with bombthrowers and decapitaters, especially those which reward their activities with millions of dollars in cash. The Italians have insisted on paying ransoms, and as they now see, all that does is create a market for Italian hostages rather than convince serial killers to love Italy.

The Times strongly suggests that Berlusconi paid this price to have his representation on our investigation into the death of Nicola Calipari. If true, that demonstrates that the Bush administration does not feel especially worried that an open probe will find anything amiss. It looks more like that Bush got furious with his Italian ally for the payoff and demanded an end to it before he allowed Berlusconi the face-saving seat at the table.

It may not matter much, anyway. As John Follain reports, Italians have admitted that they didn't coordinate any part of Calipari's mission with the Americans anyway:

Selva claimed that the attack on the Toyota Corolla carrying Sgrena and Nicola Calipari, the intelligence officer, to Baghdad airport had been prompted by a satellite monitoring system. This detected that their vehicle did not have clearance from US military authorities. A signal alerted a mobile checkpoint near the airport and its soldiers opened fire.

The Italian team should have known what to expect, but it appears they didnt realise how sophisticated the American military are, said Selva.

In other words, it wasn't the Americans playing Cowboy in Iraq. It seems more and more apparent that the Italians wanted the Americans kept in the dark about Calipari's mission and hoped to get him and Sgrena to the airport before we found out what got her released. After two newspapers reported that the Italian military didn't bother to inform us, and one even reported that the Italian military had been kept in the dark by their intelligence services, this shows the price they paid for their ineptitude and their underestimation of American security protocol. Now we unfortunately know more than we should about how the US protects its forces on that dangerous road to the Baghdad airport, but at least the Italians admit they didn't do anything to inform us about Calipari's car or its intended route. That information gets confirmed in this report, which quotes the highest-ranking Italian general in Iraq:

Mario Marioli, a deputy commander of the US-led coalition troops in Iraq, was quoted by the Italian newspaper La Repubblica as saying: "I asked Calipari if I should inform our American allies of the hostage-freeing operation, but his reply was that under no circumstances was the ally to be informed."

US authorities say the vehicle had failed to respond to signals to stop.

La Repubblica quoted statements by Marioli to Italian investigating magistrates probing the incident. He said he had twice been warned by Calipari not to disclose the operation to the Americans.

On the second occasion, with the hostage already free but the operation not yet complete, the general had asked whether he should warn the Americans that the Italians were driving to the airport with Sgrena.

"I was told no, although I warned that this might mean a quarter of an hour's wait at the checkpoint at the airport entrance," Marioli was quoted as saying.

Why did Italian intelligence want to keep the US in the dark? Because it didn't want to reveal the ransom payment, and figured our advance knowledge might quash the deal to free Sgrena from her captors. The Italian outrage may have been fueled by Sgrena, but at its core, it is simply a defense mechanism for the guilt of their intelligence service and its officer who gambled that he could outmanuever the US Army instead of just working with us. (via Michelle Malkin)

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 12, 2005 10:59 PM

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» Update: No more ransom payments from Air Force Voices
Winfield Myers (Democracy Project) alerted me to the following link featuring Michelle Malkin's Washinton Times Commentary. Here is more depth on why ransom payment need to stop! [Read More]

Tracked on March 13, 2005 12:45 AM

» Silvio Berlusconi Promises Bush No Ransom For Hostage from Diggers Realm
Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has now promised President Bush the Italians will no longer pay ransom for hostage. A little late in coming for my tastes. I wonder if this will be tested by the terrorists by taking another... [Read More]

Tracked on March 13, 2005 2:18 AM

» Another scalp for the blogosphere from Small Town Veteran
So long, Geronimo. On to Italy. [Read More]

Tracked on March 13, 2005 11:56 PM

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