Robert Fisk | A Poignant Iraqi Tragedy

Wednesday, 24 September 2003 01:41 by: Anonymous

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    A Poignant Iraqi Tragedy
    By 0aRobert Fisk
    The Independent

    Monday 22 September 2003

    Pietro Cardone is an elegant, discreet man, an Italian 0adiplomat who hates polemics and who pleaded with me that his story should speak 0afor itself.

    It does. Three days ago, he held in his arms his dying 0aIraqi interpreter, shot through the heart by an American soldier. Mr Cardone, 0a69, works for the occupation authorities. So did his translator. So did the 0asoldier who killed his translator. But here tragic irony must give way to a 0aterrible narrative.

    On the day after two more U.S. soldiers were killed - and 0a13 wounded - by guerrilla mortar fire at the Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad, 0aMr Cardone's story might seem mundane, even prosaic. But it is a poignant Iraqi 0atragedy.

    Saad Mohamed Sultan was 36 and had two children, aged 0athree and five. Mr Cardone's wife, Mirella, who was travelling with her husband 0ain the back of the car in which their interpreter died, says she can still hear 0athe shot that killed him. "I came here on 15 May, sent by my Foreign Ministry at 0athe request of the American government," Mr Cardone says. "They were looking for 0aan adviser on culture. I have spent all my career in the Arab world. I speak the 0alanguage. I understand the mentality." Indeed, Mr Cardone served in Egypt, Saudi 0aArabia, Lebanon, Syria and Morocco and was Italian ambassador in Yemen and the 0aUnited Arab Emirates. But nothing could have prepared him for last Friday. He 0ahad set out for archaeological sites in north Iraq with a project that would 0aprovide guards and police to protect the ancient cities.

    "I was driving in a Land Cruiser with a second car 0abehind," he says. "Saad and my driver were in the front of my car, my wife and I 0ain the back. At 1.45pm we approached two American Humvees, both driving in the 0asame direction as us." Mr Cardone's hands shake as he approaches the convoy 0aagain in his memory, now sitting in the lobby of the Rashid Hotel in Baghdad.

    "Our driver started to overtake the first Humvee. The 0ayoung soldier at the back made a gesture as if to say, 'Don't overtake, go 0aback'. Perhaps our driver was slow and this created a suspicion in the soldier. 0aWe were five metres from him - which was a bit close. The American soldier fired 0aone shot from his machine-gun. That shot came through the car and hit Saad in 0athe heart and came out of the back of the poor guy and scratched my arm and 0aexited through the roof of the car." Then the Americans drove on. They didn't 0astop, Mr Cardone says.

    "Mirella had been talking to Saad when the shot came into 0athe car. Our driver turned and shouted, 'My God, my God, why?" We pulled to the 0aside of the road but the Americans had gone. He was a very young soldier who 0akilled Saad. I guess he was 19 or 20. I was keeping Saad's head upright but 0athere was a lot of blood. He was making noises, saying 'Ugh! Ugh!' But when we 0areached the hospital, the doctor examined him and just said, 'There is nothing 0ato be done'. The bullet had broken his heart."

    Mr Cardone left Saad at the hospital and returned to 0aBaghdad in their second car. "This morning, his sister and brother came to see 0ame," he says. "They were very dignified. I expressed my sorrow and assured them 0athe Americans would carry out a thorough investigation and that they would 0areceive compensation. I am confident the Americans will have an investigation 0abecause they take these things seriously." Ask Mr Cardone for his opinion of 0awhat happened and he remains a diplomat. "I think it has been a needless death, 0agenerated by a misinterpretation of behaviour." Iraqis might interpret events 0adifferently.

    "I hate the phrase," Mrs Cardone says. "But I think they 0acall these things 'friendly fire'."

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