U.S. checkpoints in Iraq endanger lives - watchdog

NEW YORK, June 17 (Reuters) - The U.S. military must improve security checkpoints in Iraq that endanger civilians and soldiers, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said on Friday.

In a letter to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the organization called for the implementation of measures recommended in March after an Italian intelligence agent was killed by U.S. forces at a checkpoint.

While death tolls at U.S. checkpoints are hard to establish, such incidents have come under international scrutiny since the 2003 occupation by U.S. forces in Iraq.

The death of Nicola Calipari, an Italian intelligence agent killed by U.S. fire at a checkpoint while escorting a freed hostage, drew outrage from Italians, some of whom called for the immediate pullout of 3,000 Italian troops from Iraq.

Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, who had just been freed from kidnappers, and another Italian agent were seriously injured in the shooting.

"Checkpoint shootings have sparked outrage among Iraqi citizens, undermining public confidence in the U.S. military," Ann Cooper of the Committee to Protect Journalists wrote to Rumsfeld.

In the letter, which was co-signed by Human Rights Watch, Cooper called for the immediate implementation of checkpoint recommendations made after a U.S. military investigation into the Calipari shooting.

The recommendations include installing spiked strips and temporary speed bumps to disable approaching vehicles and using signs with Arabic, English and international symbols to warn drivers of upcoming checkpoints.

An Italian report on Calipari's death blamed the United States for failing to set up "the most elementary precautions" to warn drivers of approaching checkpoints.

A U.S. inquiry into Calipari's death blamed the driver for approaching too fast and on the lack of communication from Italian authorities on the hostage rescue mission.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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