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Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Giuliana Sgrena – journalist

War reporter who survived kidnapping in Iraq


The journalist Giuliana Sgrena pictured at a book signing in Rome
The journalist Giuliana Sgrena pictured
at a book signing in Rome
The journalist Giuliana Sgrena, a war correspondent for an Italian newspaper who was kidnapped by insurgents while reporting the 2003 invasion of Iraq, was born on this day in 1948 in Masera, a village in Piedmont.

Sgrena, who was covering the conflict for the Rome daily Il Manifesto and the weekly German news magazine Die Welt, was seized outside Baghdad University on February 4, 2005.

During her 28 days in captivity, she was forced to appear in a video pleading that the demands of her abductors – the withdrawal of the 2,400 Italian troops from the multi-national force in Iraq – be met.

Those demands were rejected but the Italian authorities allegedly negotiated a $6 million payment to secure Sgrena’s release.

She was rescued by two Italian intelligence officers on March 4 only then to come under fire from United States forces en route to Baghdad International Airport.

In one of the most controversial incidents of the conflict, Major General Nicola Calipari, from the Italian military intelligence corps, was shot dead. Sgrena and the other intelligence officer were wounded.

The US authorities apologised for the incident but claimed that the soldiers involved, whose detail was to protect an American diplomat who was travelling to the airport at the same time, were responding to reports of a bomb planted on Sgrena’s vehicle by Al-Qaeda terrorists and gave a warning before they opened fire.

Sgrena was an opponent of the 2003 invasion of Iraq
Sgrena was an opponent of the 2003
invasion of Iraq
However, Sgrena testified that the US forces had given no warning and that of 58 bullets fired at the car only one was aimed at the engine, which suggested that the primary objective was to kill the occupants of the vehicle rather than to disable it.

The incident led to a period of difficult relations between Italy and the US and led to criticism of Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi for giving his support to the invasion, the impetus for which came primarily from US president George W Bush and the British prime minister, Tony Blair.

Sgrena herself had been a steadfast opponent of the invasion and her reporting of the conflict was critical of the ferocity of US bombing, in particular of Baghdad and during the second Battle of Fallujah, where she claimed the invasion force used the flammable gel napalm that was deployed to such deadly effect in Vietnam.

She insisted that working away from the embedded correspondents enabled her to report events more honestly, giving full detail of the level of destruction.

Sgrena’s background shaped her politics and her attitude to conflict. Masera, an Alpine village in the province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola, had seen intense fighting during the Second World War between Italian partisans and German soldiers. Her father, Franco Sgrena, a noted partisan, was a communist and an activist in railway union.

Italian president Carlo Azeglio Ciampi visited Sgrena in hospital as she recovered from gunshot wounds
Italian president Carlo Azeglio Ciampi visited Sgrena in
hospital as she recovered from gunshot wounds
At university in Milan, Sgrena herself was involved with left-wing political causes and became a pacifist. From 1980 she wrote for the weekly magazine Guerra e Pace.

In 1988, she joined the left-leaning Il Manifesto, where she became a war correspondent, covering conflicts in Algeria, Somalia and Afghanistan. She also reported from Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and the Middle East.

A campaigner for women's rights who has also been critical of the treatment of women under Islam, her coverage of the bombing of Baghdad earned her the title of Cavaliere del Lavoro on her return to Italy. In 2005 she was awarded the Stuttgart Peace Prize.

Masera sits in the shadow of the Alps close to the Swiss border
Masera sits in the shadow of the Alps close to the Swiss border
Travel tip:

Masera, located almost on the Swiss border some 130km (81 miles) northeast of Turin, is an Alpine village of almost 1,500 inhabitants in which the economy is driven as much by agriculture as tourism and which is notable for staging a annual Grape Festival in the second week of September, which celebrates the harvest with numerous cultural events, including folk music events that attract performers from all over Piedmont.

Verbania is a large town on the shore of Lake Maggiore
Verbania is a large town on the shore of Lake Maggiore
Travel tip:

The nearest sizeable community to Masera is Verbania, situated on the shores of Lake Maggiore about 30km (19 miles) to the southeast.   A town of more than 30,000 population, it faces the city of Stresa across the lake. A small island a few metres from the shore, known as the Isolino di San Giovanni, is famous for having been the home of Arturo Toscanini, between 1927 and 1952.  Verbania is also the home town of the military general Luigi Cadorna, who was Chief of Staff of the Italian Army in the early part of the First World War.





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