March 9th, 2005
By combining photo evidence and eyewitness accounts of the Baghdad airport shooting in which Giuliana Sgrena was wounded and Nicola Calipari killed, a compelling picture of a precision ambush emerges.
This analysis is sharpened by also considering the operational constraints upon any planned assassination of the troublesome Italian reporter. Such a killing would have to be palusibly deniable as a "mishap" and would have to avoid the slaughter of three intelligence agents in the vehicle.
That partly explains why Sgrena is still alive. A full-on salvo for a heavy calibre weapon would have left nobody alive in the vehicle. But, while slaying a political journalist is one thing -murdering three intelligence officers of a friendly nation in the process was never going to be an option.
But, the alternative was eminently feasible. It would be possible to selectively target Sgrena inside the vehicle, because the planners would know exactly where she would be seated. Assuming any half-competency in intelligence gathering, it was known the occupants would be an Iraqi driver, three intelligence agents and the target: Giuliana Sgrena.
Unfortunately for them, their seating arrangements inside the car were entirely predictable. Operational protocol dictated that one agent would be in the front with the driver, and Sgrena would be seated in the center of the rear -between the two other agents. In the hostile zone of Baghdad this seating was a virtual certainty.
An account of events by Peter Popham in the UK Independent shows American authorities at Baghdad airport knew that the Italian intelligence team would likely be returning late Friday with Sgrena. They surely knew the model and number of the car Calipari had hired at the airport just before 4pm on Friday.
The optimum kill zone was the immediate area of the airport -under direct US control. That's a given. The optimum location is where road speed is minimized: just before or after a turn. No surprise then, that it was just after the car rounded a 90 degree turn in a single lane road at the airport, that the occupants came opon a US armoured vehicle:
"They passed two American checkpoints along the airport road without incident and were 700 metres or so from the airport building. The road narrowed to a single, one-way lane and took a 90-degree turn. The car was going slowly now... They found their progress baulked by an American tank."
A moving target shot is out of the question, so a way was found to bring the vehicle to a halt --and ensure it kept stationary in the kill zone. Blocking the road with another vehicle, then shooting out the front tyres the moment the car slows are the tried and trusted means of halting and holding a car.
If the driver is known to be Iraqi, then there is little downside to using the other aspect of full immobilization procedure: take out the driver as well.
That's three marksmen at a minimum. One in front to take care of the driver and possibly have sight of the target in the rear. Two more marksmen, positioned one either side of the car just slightly ahead. They could take care of the tyres and then switch to the interior for the target shot.
Was three marksmen enough? Even though the interior light was reported < http://washingtontimes.com/world/20050308-114454-6752r.htm > to have been on, target aquisition inside a vehicle must take at least three seconds plus one second to shift aim from the tyres. But after four seconds, the rear occupants may be already moving --so the head shot on Sgrena was likely intercepted by Calipari's cranium.
The marksman must have known at that moment there was a 50-50 chance he had taken out the team leader in the back seat. Who knows how he responded. But in any event Calipari had slumped against Sgrena and rendered further clear shots unlikely.
The assassination bid was already a disaster.
As to those manning the patrol and the armored vehicle, they just did as they were instructed. "Block the road on receipt of the signal. Begin firing as soon as the car slows [essential audible camoflage for sniper shots]. Fire high at all times. Do NOT fire at the vehicle. [Remember, pissing off the entire italian intelligence service is NOT the idea here.] After fifteen seconds approach the vehicle and mop up."
And that's how it may well have gone down.
The photos of the car taken from Italian television < http://www.corriere.it/Primo_Piano/Politica/2005/03_Marzo/08
/calipari.shtml > confirm the foregoing analysis. We have one photo taken from the front and a number from one side.
The driver's side tyre has clearly been shot out from the side. It has been pierced in the sidewall by a single shot. Nervous GI's in Iraq do not fire single shots at tyres. They fire fusilades.
The same observation can be made about the overall lack of bullet damage to the car bodywork.
Instead of a general peppering, we see a few precise individual shots. Two bullet holes in the front windscreen are low down and ahead of the driver. A third bullet hole is visible in the driver's side rear passenger window -high up. This was one of the head shots.
The other side of the car probably has an interesting tale to tell also, as any unfettered Italian forensics examination will in due course show.
This damage to the car is consistent with a precision ambush. It is inconsistent with a typical US military attack on a vehicle perceived to be a threat - no matter how many rounds were fired.
That's the 'How' of the Sgrena hit.
In Part II here shortly, we examine the inexorable reasons 'Why'.