March 17, 2005

Italy and Iraq – Bad Precedent/Bad Policy

Italy announced this week that it would begin the phased withdrawal of its contingent of 3,000 troops from Iraq as early as September of this year. This comes in the wake of increased Italian public opinion against Italian involvement in the war following the accidental killing by American forces of an Italian intelligence officer during the release of an Italian journalist held hostage.

A few comments on the shooting of the Italian hostage and SISMI officer.

Italy's SISMI - (Servizio perle Informazioni e la Sicurezza Militaire, Intelligence and Military Security Service) - is its primary foreign intelligence agency. They mean well and usually are cooperative with us, but do not have a sterling reputation in the clandestine operations business. There is a small civilian agency (SISDE), but are dwarfed by SISMI. The relationship is quite similar to that of Israel's Directorate of Military Intelligence (the senior service) and the Mossad.

What happened in Baghdad was an unfortunate - and totally preventable - accident. Having done these sorts of things before, you always want to secure your egress route. As we saw in Baghdad, securing your target/subject/asset is meaningless if he/she is then killed in the egress.

The normal (if there is a normal in this business) protocol is to secure the asset and move him/her to the nearest secure area, in this case an Iraqi army or multinational forces installation. Once there, then further secure movement can be coordinated.

The Italians did virtually everything wrong. They did not coordinate (or even notify) the operations of the SISMI officer in going to meet the insurgents, nor did they coordinate the egress route. Even so, he could have taken her to the Green Zone. Approaching a US Army checkpoint and not stopping was reckless. What were the GI's supposed to do? They had no way of knowing who was in the vehicle coming at them at anywhere between 75 to 100 feet per second. The blame rests with the Italian intelligence officer.

Francona calls the Italians "reckless." (See a clip of Rick on this issue)

I have heard that the ransom paid for Sgrena was in the $10 million range, less than that paid for the two young ladies (the two Simona's) kidnapped and released last year. It was bad precedent then, and bad policy now. Part of the agreement for Sgrena's release may have been the announcement that Italy will withdraw its troops.

Once you start dealing with terrorists, where does it end?