Image: Jim Miklasszewski
By Jim Miklaszewski Chief Pentagon correspondent
NBC News
updated 4/13/2005 7:37:37 PM ET 2005-04-13T23:37:37

The friendly fire shooting at a U.S. military checkpoint last month in Baghdad wounded Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena and killed intelligence agent Nicola Calipari.

Now, NBC News has learned that a preliminary report from a joint U.S.-Italian investigation has cleared the American soldiers of any wrongdoing and provides new details into the shooting.

Intelligence agent Calipari had just negotiated Sgrena's release from Iraqi kidnappers on March 4 when the two and a driver headed for the Baghdad airport in a compact rental car.

It was dark when the Italians turned onto a ramp leading to the airport road where the U.S. military had set up a temporary checkpoint.

The investigation found the car was about 130 yards from the checkpoint when the soldiers flashed their lights as a warning to stop. But the car kept coming and, at 90 yards, warning shots were fired. At 65 yards, when the car failed to stop, the soldiers used lethal force — a machine gun burst that killed Calipari and wounded Sgrena and the driver.

Senior U.S. military officials say it took only about four seconds from the first warning to the fatal shots, but insist the soldiers acted properly under the current rules of engagement.

The investigation failed, however, to resolve one critical dispute: The Americans claim the car was racing toward the checkpoint at about 50 miles per hour, the Italians say it was traveling at a much slower speed.

In Italy, agent Calipari was given a state funeral, but the investigation found he himself may have committed a fatal error. He reportedly chose not to coordinate his movements with the U.S. military for fear it would jeopardize his efforts to free the Italian hostage.

Sgrena, meanwhile, disputes the military's account and says she has little confidence the investigation will reveal the truth.

As a result of the incident, the U.S. military will review its procedures regarding the use of lethal force at checkpoints, but senior military officials say they'll take no action that would put American soldiers at greater risk.

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