Skip to main content

I can't prove it, but I think this is a photo of the location where Sgrena was attacked. What's striking about this location is that it appears to be an excellent location for an ambush, and a terrible location for a checkpoint.

In a variety of striking ways, the location shown in the photo I'm posting seems to correspond with the Italian account of what happened (the following details of the incident are mostly based on Fini's statement to the Italian House, as well as other similar accounts via Sgrena):

  • Immediately prior to the attack, they drove through an underpass that was flooded. The underpass in the photo is relatively long (perhaps a bit longer than the fuselage of the large aircraft located nearby). If it's not well-drained, it would likely suffer flooding in a heavy rain.

  • In the entire large satellite image of the airport and vicinity, I can only spot two or three other underpasses of any kind. For various reasons, they do not look like likely candidates.

  • Sgrena was attacked when she was about 700 meters from the airport. The underpass in the detail is about 700 meters from what appears to be the main terminal building.

  • As they left the underpass, they immediately entered a sharp ninety-degree turn to the left. This corresponds exactly with what is shown in the satellite image.

  • As they were in the turn (or perhaps as they left the turn), a floodlight illuminated the vehicle and fire erupted from a rise to the right of the vehicle. The photo obviously does not show contour lines and elevations, but there appears to be a rise on both sides of the road.

To summarize, what is particularly striking is the distance to the terminal building, and the presence of a long underpass immediately followed by a sharp turn. This is a unique combination of characteristics (compared with other points on the route to the airport).

Speaking of fire from the right, a very helpful report of vehicle damage corroborating that account can be found here.

Speaking of fire from the right, note also that the driver is uninjured, the man in the right front seat is seriously injured, the man in the right rear seat is dead, and the woman in the left rear seat is moderately injured.

Note that the location shown in the photo seems like a very smart place to locate an ambush, and a very dumb place to locate a checkpoint. The underpass was dark, flooded and immediately followed by a sharp turn. A vehicle entering that turn, for all these reasons, would have to be moving slowly and would therefore represent a good target. In fact, in examining the entire route, I think there is no other location with more attractive characteristics (from the perspective of someone planning an ambush).

Also, the rise to the right of the road would be an ideal place from which to be able to shoot down into the slow-moving vehicle, with the illuminated occupants in relatively clear view.

In contrast, this would be a terribly illogical place to locate a checkpoint. This article about checkpoints indicates that "most checkpoints are well marked ... with visible and colorful signs in Arabic and English posted from 400 meters away." In other words, a checkpoint, if possible, would be placed on a straight stretch of road where troops and drivers could see each other from a long distance away. This enhances the safety of all parties. Note that Sgrena had already traveled, unimpeded, over about five-and-a-half miles of the road connecting Baghdad to the airport. The maps and satellite images show that there are many, many places on that road where a checkpoint could be set up in the safe manner I described. By all accounts, Sgrena was not stopped at any prior checkpoint.

If it was determined that the airport needed to be protected by a checkpoint, it's incomprehensible that it would be placed in the location shown in the photo I've posted. In the entire route from Bahgdad to the airport, this seems to be literally the worst place to put a checkpoint. For exactly the same reasons, it seems to be the best place to put an ambush.

Notes:

The photo is a detail from this much larger satellite image (bandwidth warning: multi-megabyte jpeg). The image is dated 4/1/03.

If you're looking at the larger image and you want to see where this detail fits, look for a large aircraft near the center of the airport (I think it's the only aircraft anywhere in the photo). Look due south (and a little bit to the west) from this aircraft, about 700 meters. That's the location of the detail.

A helpful map, but much less detailed, is here. The scale on the large satellite image is unclear, so I took advantage of the scale on this map.

(By the way, an outstanding collection of Iraq maps and satellite images can be found here.)

[Update]

See this update and comments below for helpful information brought to light by fathom.

My orginal analysis doesn't say this explicitly, but I was assuming eastbound travel through the underpass. Although I still think that was possible, thanks to fathom I'm now convinced that a scenario of westbound travel was more likely. This doesn't change anything fundamental about the analysis. It still seems likely that this photo shows the location of the attack, and it still seems clear that this is an excellent location for an ambush and an exceedingly stupid location for a checkpoint.

By the way, I said "what appears to be the main terminal building." Actually, the main terminal building doesn't appear on the large satellite image (but it does appear on the map I cited). I see now that the building I was describing is some kind of secondary terminal. This is just a clarification, and doesn't change the analysis materially.

Also, in my Notes I suggested there is only one aircraft in the photo. Thanks to fathom, now I see there are two.

Originally posted to jukeboxgrad on Thu Mar 10, 2005 at 09:26 AM PST.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  A big thank you (4.00)
    for this post, juke.

    Also, I have an important update today:
    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2005/3/10/12747/2742

    It's looking more and more like a hit. That's a hell of a place for a "checkpoint" at 9:00 pm on a Friday night. BTW the "checkpoint" story is a lie. There was no "checkpoint". If it wasn't a hit, then it looks like some kinda "let's go kill us some "rag-haid" Ay-rabs" caper.

    •  asdf (none)
      You had excellent updates in your diary.

      I posted a BBC link on Berlusconi's stance.  Looks like he intends to "float like butterfly, but not sting like a bee."  No slapdown for the egregious US mistakes, unless the Italian people don't let it rest.

      Politics is not about ...predictions. Politics is what we create by what we do, what we hope for, and what we dare to imagine. Paul Wellstone

      by bronte17 on Thu Mar 10, 2005 at 09:47:39 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  The Italians.... (none)
        are an ornery lot.  They do not like being told what to think, nor being fed any bull, nor watching their "leaders" cow to US interests.  I expect a lot of anger on this among the masses, so Berlusconi will be pretty stressed for a bit trying to simultaneously placate Bush and the masses.

        Excellent post, juke.  Keep the pressure on.

        The Moral Majority - all those Christian conservatives left on Earth AFTER the Rapture....

        by sp0t on Thu Mar 10, 2005 at 10:58:29 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Recommending also (none)
    Thank you for all the hard work.
  •  another option (none)
    Thank you for the hard work.

    Another possibility (besides it was a checkpoint or an ambush), is that the patrol was an extra security detail for Negroponte (read this latest version of who the troops were last night). They were posted there for security like a road block, but not for a typical checkpoint.

    I happened to be driving in Albuquerque last year when the presidential motorcade went through on I25, and they had military type police security set up on the overpasses.

    •  Security for Negroponte? I don't think so (4.00)
      I think you're thinking of this report, which says: "Earlier Tuesday, a senior U.S. official said the checkpoint where Calipari was killed had been set up for the passage of the U.S. ambassador to Iraq on the road to the Baghdad airport. Ambassador John Negroponte had been expected to pass the Baghdad-area checkpoint a short time later, the official said."

      That makes no sense to me, because of this: "things have gotten so bad on the airport road that last month the U.S. Embassy closed the highway to the swollen ranks of American officialdom in Iraq. Henceforth, Americans working in the Green Zone would be airlifted to their airplanes."

      Anyway, it would be nice to see some clear information regarding Negroponte's whereabouts on Friday night.

  •  Check out Eric Alterman's blog Altercation (none)
    There is much to be learned about the Sgrena attack and I applaud those who are trying to learn the truth. However, in our quest to know what happen, let us not be guilty of what we accuse of people who do not share our view of politics and the world, i.e., refusing to acknowledge facts that do not support their view of an issue or event. Please check Eric Alterman's blow "Altercation" at msnbc.com. Yesterday (and he has a rolling blog so posts from previous day's stay up), he posted the view points of a thoughtful (dare I say liberal) major currently serving in Iraq about the check points on the road to the Bagdad airport. He gives a different perspective on the reality of what US soldiers face working those checkpoints. Major Bateman's comments fall under the title "stop means stop". For those of you who do not know Eric Alterman, he is a very well, well respective and very liberal media analyst. I found Major Bateman's comments most enlightening.

    Remember - IOKIYAR: Its O.K. if your're a Republican

    by AnneElizabeth on Thu Mar 10, 2005 at 10:24:14 AM PST

    •  Major Bateman's comments... (4.00)
      ....were solid bullshit. He's a liar. His account of checkpoint structure and procedure doesn't tally with either the story of the Italian secret service survivors, or with numerous other incidents.

      I have some sympathy for ordinary soldiers who get caught in situations not of their own making, but none for well-paid officer whores who can, and will, put the bodies of those soldiers between themselves and any real danger. Worship a person like this and sooner or later you will have his boot in your face. And then you'll hear him explaining to others that it was just standard procedure, nothing to worry about, and your fault anyway.

      "Salvation is by way of the truth, not by way of the fatherland" -- Chaadaev

      by sagesource on Thu Mar 10, 2005 at 10:37:10 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Hmmmm (none)
        Considering what some one has to say is not worshipping them. His truth is filtered by what he does and by where is stationed. Are you suggesting just because Bateman is an officer stationed in Baghdad he is incapable of offering a valid viewpoint? Well, you have obviously identified one of your filters - that all officers are "well paid military whores". So be it. I am most interested in hearing what happened from the view point of both parties. If it turns out that this was an attempted murderous hit on Sgrena, then let this crime, especially in the context of US legitimacy to have invaded Iraq in the first place, be prosecuted in the legal courts and the court of world opinion. If,it turns out, if was a stupid mistake on the part of some shell-shocked jittery troops and - possibly, some misunderstanding on the part of the driver,I will not be disappointed that it fails to prove any assumed notion that the soldiers and officers involved in this incident are seditious consipirators.

        Remember - IOKIYAR: Its O.K. if your're a Republican

        by AnneElizabeth on Thu Mar 10, 2005 at 11:23:02 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Sharing a political viewpoint??? (4.00)
      What are you talking about? In this case there  was either NO CHECKPOINT or a fazullo checkpoint. It was some sort of roving patrol consisting of undiciplined, triggerhappy kids, assuming it was not a hit. In the pouring rain, no less.

      However, Staff Sgt. Jim Massey has this to say on checkpoint patrols in an interview with Repubblica today:

      Q. How do such misunderstandings occur?

      "We received daily intelligence warning us of suicide attacks. Our anxiety was stoked by instructions to suspect women, children and ambulances. Every Iraqi was portrayed to us as a terrorist.  This kind of instruction was like fingernails on a blackboard."

      Q. What about rules of engagement?

      "First, we were supposed to raise our arm or to light a nighttime flare, then we were to fire a warning burst (in a country where people shoot in the air to celebrate),  and finally we were to shoot at the car. But the interval between these steps decreased more and more. We requested physical barricades to force traffic to slow down but our corps of engineers told us barricades weren't necessary. In fact, we were prepared to kill innocent victims to demonstrate who was the stronger.

      Q. Were these people really terrorists?

      In the cars which we shot up, no one ever returned fire. During car searches, we never found weapons. We did find cash because people were attempting to flee. I remember the blood-covered face of a 6 year-old child--the eyes of the only survivng passenger of a red KIA near Baghdad stadium--who kept asking me over and over: "Why did you kill my brother?"

      Q. So what did you do?

      I went to my commanding officer and I told him we were carrying out senseless massacres. He told me that I needed rest and to see a pyschologist. They sent me home.

      Q. Did your fellow soldiers feel the same way you did?

      It is not their job to question orders. They were kids happy with what they did for a living. When anyone approached me with doubts, I was supposed to keep them motivated so that they'd return home in one piece.  I told them to return to combat but inside I couldn't take it any more. They broke every rule I ever taught them.

      Q. Have you read the account of the slain Italian intelligence officer?

      Yes, and knowing how things work at a checkpoint, it doesn't surprise me. First they shoot, then they ask questions. No guideline exists on how fast a car should be going, even though they've been referring to "speeding" cars for a year now. It was a matter of time before the shit would rise to the surface. Tragically, it took a victim of notariety to draw attention the huge number of slain Iraqis.

      •  Look (none)
        All I said in my original post that Eric Alterman had posted an interesting perspective from an officer stationed at one end of Irish road (the road to the Baghdad airport)and that should be considered when trying to undestand this case. Bateman's and Masseys' comments are not that dissimilar. They both mention the substantial "pucker factor" in guarding this road (in your rewrite of the Massey interview, it isn't stated what road he guarded during his tour of duty- I will assume that, because you quoted it, he was working Irish Road as well). The response I got to that post was that Batemen's comments should be automatically dismissed because he is, according to the respondant, "a well paid officer whore", I reject that because it falls into the same trap as the wingnut repugs who reject any piece of evidence that doesnt come from their tribe. And, I openly agree with one thing Bateman said - people who said we should look to the British on how to manage checkpoints because of their experience NORTHERN IRELAND doesnt fly, because nothing in Northern Ireland compares to what soldiers are facing on Ireland Road. The fact is, Bateman never said that the US army is NOT at fault for this incident. He just laid out the conditions on Irish Road as he knows them. And,one more thing, it sounds like Massey is no longer in Iraq (?) What is the timeframe for his experience on Irish Road?

        Remember - IOKIYAR: Its O.K. if your're a Republican

        by AnneElizabeth on Thu Mar 10, 2005 at 12:02:40 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  It is indeed very hard (none)
          for many of us to accept that the US would intentionally target a hostile journalist. Even with "Death Squad" Negroponte and his personal "guard" in the neighborhood, and open discussions of applying the "Salvador Option" to Iraq, we will tend to search for any way to believe it just is not so.  Some have even claimed that the fact that they didn't "finish off" Sgrena as proof that it wasn't an assasination attempt, despite details like the reports that it was a 'miracle' that anyone survived the hail of rounds, that no help was provided to the wounded for 20 minutes, or the unanticipated inconvenience of the targets speaking by cell phone to Berlusconi as the tragedy went down.  
    •  In all likelihood, there was no checkpoint (none)
      The Bateman comments posted by Alterman are not particularly helpful.

      "came under fire at an American checkpoint"

      This is an example of how even the SCLM parrots propaganda issued by our government (and this exact example can be found in many, many places).

      I'm convinced there was no checkpoint. There is no evidence of a checkpoint. There is growing evidence of the absence of a checkpoint. In my opinion, the idea of a "checkpoint" is a US government alibi that is spreading far and wide, and not being subjected to even a modicum of appropriate journalistic skepticism.

      The word "checkpoint" is appropriate only if we've decided that it is a reasonable synonym for "ambush."

      "When we set up a check point, it is really obvious"

      Exactly. Which means it doesn't suddenly appear. Which means the location I'm highlighting would be a very unnatural place for a checkpoint.

      And given that checkpoints are "really obvious," no one has explained why three experienced Italian agents would take the suicidal step of rushing a "really obvious" checkpoint.

      "... any assumed notion that the soldiers and officers involved in this incident are seditious consipirators." (AnneElizabeth said this upthread)

      I think it's very unlikely the guys pulling triggers knew they were shooting innocent Italians. I think they were following instructions from somewhere up the chain of command, and they thought they were shooting bad guys. It seems that one or more of them figured out something was wrong about 10 or 20 seconds after the shooting started.

      Good references on checkpoint reality can be found here:

      http://www.zeit.de/2005/11/checkpoint_englisch
      http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0307/p01s04-woiq.html

      More background on the airport road here:

      http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110006214
      http://www.w3ar.com/a.php?k=1766

  •  Question (none)
    With all of the effort being put into the specifics of what might have happened in this incident, could someone please tell me what the motivation would be here?

    Is this lady a big deal somewhere?  I've never heard of her prior to this incident so I obviously don't know her background, but who would want her dead and why?

    •  Ample motivation to target Sgrena (4.00)
      There are a variety of reasons why one or more persons in our military and/or government would want to kill, hurt or intimidate Sgrena.

      Some people give her credit for being "one of the first journalists to collect evidence of rape among women detainees at Abu Ghraib." It's also possible she has done further investigation regarding her charges of napalm use in Fallujah.

      Speaking of rape, note that it's very recently been revealed that soldiers in a unit of the 3rd Infantry Division were under investigation for rape (and variety of other abuses) a while back. The soldiers who attacked Sgrena were also apparently "with the 3rd Infantry."

      Speaking of interesting coincidences, the attack on Sgrena happened at virtually the same moment that the Army released a large new batch of FOIA documents, including documents regarding the aforementioned investigation of a unit of the 3rd Infantry.

      (For more on this aspect, see my comment and other comments in this diary.)

      Note that only three countries (US, UK and S. Korea) have more foreign troops in Iraq than Italy does. And in Italy domestic support for the war has been very shaky. By the way, Sgrena is read widely in Europe, not just in her own paper, but in other major papers such as Die Zeit. So she is not without influence.

      Incidentally, one objective of shooting at her could be to convince her to stay away from Iraq. And indeed, she has stated that she will not return.

      By the way, another possible objective of targeting her is to intimidate other journalists who might be inclined to criticize the war, as she has done.

    •  Plus the fact that some people believe (none)
      that Sgrena's original kidnapping was a hoax -- that she was a willing participant.

      Derek Rose summarizes and rebuts their arguments nicely.

      Logically, if she did participate freely in such a scheme, and helped the insurgents extract ransom for her release, she can be viewed as a fundraiser for the enemy -- no longer an innocent civilian.

  •  Apparently (none)
    she wrote an article about the napalming of Falluja. Since naplam is a banned weapon (WMD) we have violated that "quaint" Geneva convention. That is why the US forces were not allowing aid groups and medics into Falluja. I guess they needed to get rid of all the melted bodies. I don't have the link, but it is posted under many other references to her.

    With a big ol' lie And a flag and a pie And a mom and a bible Most folks are just liable To buy any line Any place, any time ~ FZ

    by f furney on Thu Mar 10, 2005 at 11:22:38 AM PST

  •  Interesting work (none)
    Thanks for the good investigation!  Critical thinking and facts are the only responsible way to look into this.

    You have done a good job of matching up the description of the path leading up to the incident with the picture of the roads, but I'm confused on a fine point.  The description you give made me think the car was traveling from the left of the picture to the right.  This does not seem probable from the map at http://www.ndu.edu/library/baghdad.html which indicates cars coming to the airport could only enter from the south-south-west.  They would have gone through the underpass from right to left (east to west) in that case.  This is still consistent with the hypothesis of this underpass being the one mentioned to have been traveled just prior to the incident.

    In your analysis, you indicate the Italian story indicated:  "As they left the underpass, they immediately entered a sharp ninety-degree turn to the left."  Where is that description?  The linked description at http://www.dailykos.com/story/2005/3/8/61954/68302#94
     does not indicate the turn was to the left.  Again this does not cause any problem with the hypothesis, but such details are important to keep straight.  If you know of a more detailed description I'd be interested in seeing it.

    The implications are not changed, but it appears that the car traveled through the underpass east to west, not west to east.  There are runways on both sides of the road, and an aircraft on each side in the picture.  If they were headed to the terminal on the west side or east side, the pictured underpass does seem to uniquely fit the Italian description of the path taken, but I don't see how they could have been headed to the east.

    Sorry if this has been a pointless post about an irrelevant detail, but if this photo turns out to yield important information, I thought it would be helpful to make sure we had the location of the event on the correct side of the highway, otherwise anything gained from the hypothesis is too easily discounted.

    Thanks again for the good work, jukeboxgrad!

    •  Good question: main runway or secondary runway? (none)
      Fathom, thanks for your kind words and your very careful reading. I think I have answers for your very good questions.

      "The description you give made me think the car was traveling from the left of the picture to the right."

      Correct.

      "This does not seem probable from the map at http://www.ndu.edu/library/baghdad.html which indicates cars coming to the airport could only enter from the south-south-west."

      I agree that the map creates that impression, and I gave this issue some consideration.

      "They would have gone through the underpass from right to left (east to west) in that case."

      I think I see what you're getting at. It's true there's a secondary runway (smaller than the main runway, and to the west of the main runway) to the west of the detail I presented. This secondary runway is very evident on the map (that we both cited) but not on the satellite image (which simply doesn't extend that far west; only the southernmost portion of the secondary runway is visible on the satellite image).

      By the way, until you mentioned it I didn't notice the aircraft (visible in the satellite image) in the terminal area near that secondary runway.

      I think the scenario you're proposing is the car used the large loop which passes to the south of the main runway, and then made a left turn to travel through the underpass to reach the secondary runway area.

      "This is still consistent with the hypothesis of this underpass being the one mentioned to have been traveled just prior to the incident."

      In other words, we're both working with the same hypothesis, that this particular underpass looks like the most likely candidate for various reasons, but there's a question about which runway they were heading towards (and this determines which direction they were headed as they traveled through the underpass).

      "The linked description ... does not indicate the turn was to the left."

      You're exactly right (and this where you especially prove what a careful reader you are!). But that's why I was careful to say "mostly based" on Fini's account. You found essentially the one important fact I deduced by other means (because you're right, Fini didn't say it was a left turn). I could have been more clear about this, because I said "as well as other similar accounts via Sgrena," and that's not exactly right (it was lazy writing on my part; I should have said "as well as a number of other factors").

      I deduce it was a turn to the left by putting together various other pieces of evidence. The underpass I highlighted is the only example of an underpass (especially a long one) that is adjacent to a sharp ninety-degree turn. It is also a likely candidate because it is about 700 meters from what looks like a large terminal, with an aircraft parked nearby. The Italians make clear that first they traveled the underpass, and then entered the turn. I realize there is a mild turn to the west of the underpass, but it is definitely not ninety degrees. Far from it. Therefore, I believe they transited the underpass heading eastbound, and then proceeded to make a left turn, because that's the way towards the main runway (if one has just passed eastbound through this underpass).

      Note also the report I cited that indicated most of the fire struck the right side of the vehicle. I think for reasons of aiming angles it's much more logical to set up an ambush on the outside of the turn, rather than the inside of the turn. This too is consistent with the idea the vehicle was eastbound and then turned left upon leaving the underpass.

      If the vehicle was heading through the underpass westbound (which is sort of your hypothesis), there is a turn that comes up (not exactly right away), but it's a very shallow right turn, rather than a sharp left turn. For the various reasons I mentioned, this doesn't fit too well (it doesn't come up right away, it's not ninety-degrees, and since it's a right-hand turn it means an ambush would have been set up on the inside of the turn, which I think is illogical).

      "I don't see how they could have been headed to the east."

      We're left with this issue you raise, which is based on your assumption that they had approached the airport via the large loop that travels to the south of the main runway. I believe you're correct, that if they indeed had approached the airport this way, it looks like there would never have been any need for them to pass through the underpass heading east.

      This leads you to the hypothesis that they traveled though the underpass heading west, i.e., they were heading toward the secondary runway. But as I mentioned, I see various problems with the idea that they traveled through the underpass heading west.

      So how did they reach the underpass? One possibility is that they did not traverse the large loop that travels to the south of the main runway, but rather that they traversed the loop in the other direction, to travel around the north end of the main runway. I agree with your implied point, that the map seems to indicate you can't get through that way. My hunch is that there might indeed be a way to get through from that other direction.

      I think another possibility is that they used the southern loop, but for whatever reason the normal exit ramp was not available, and this required a slightly circuitous route that essentially meant going a little too far, making a u-turn, and then reaching the underpass, and using it to proceed eastbound to the main runway.

      A slight variation on this is that for whatever reason, they inadvertently missed the proper exit ramp, and this required them to go a little bit out of their way, in the manner I just described.

      Note that this highlights some cleverness in the location of the ambush (if that's what it was); by placing it so close to the terminal, it means the Italians would have to pass the ambush no matter what, even though there are a variety of different routes they may have taken prior to that point. (In other words, either using the proper exit ramp, or overshooting it and consequently backtracking via the underpass, would both lead the Italians to pass the ambush location.)

      Yet another variation, a sinister one, is that the proper exit ramp was deliberately blocked, forcing them to take the detour I described, specifically for the purpose of setting up a more effective ambush (the combination of the flooded underpass and the sharp turn seem ideal for forcing the car to slow down, making it a much easier target).

      A contributor to this confusion is that the satellite image doesn't extend far enough north, to see clearly the path around the north end of the main runway. If anyone can get their hands on an adjoining satellite image, that would be great.

      I think soon enough we will have much more detailed information about all this, perhaps from people who have recent personal experience with the airport road network. I could find out I'm all wrong, but for now I'm very struck by how this particular underpass seems to match up with the Italian story. Even though, as you point out very astutely, there are some oddities about the assumed route.

      It would be nice if we could have a chat with the driver. Obviously he has answers to all these questions.

      I completely agree with you that all these details are important.

      •  Westbound left turn (none)
        Although the map does not show it, the photograph clearly shows a left turn onto a road going to what appears to be the western terminals.  This is a quite sharp turn to the left right after leaving the underpass, and seems to be the most likely path to the terminals on the west.  This fits the described path perfectly, even the distance is about right.

        I don't think you can enter this area from the north.  The two sides of the airport are shown in the map to be joined by taxiways and possibly a northern terminal.  Cars would NOT be allowed on the taxiways of course, and a tunnel under the taxiways would be unnecessary and expensive, so not being shown on the map, I don't think one exists.

        There IS a northern loop that goes to the northern end of the eastern runways.  It is not shown in the photo, so we can't check it for the presence of an underpass.  The topology of the roads there do not indicate the need for any overpasses, so I'd guess there are not any there, but I suppose it's possible.

        It appears totally sensible that if they were going to the western terminal, they would have used the pictured underpass, made a hard left turn, and then things went wrong from their right as you describe.  I can see nothing implausible about them having to go past the exit and come back, so as to pass under the highway from west to east either.  Could be either way I suppose.

        •  fathom sheds a lot of light (none)
          "Although the map does not show it, the photograph clearly shows a left turn onto a road going to what appears to be the western terminals.  This is a quite sharp turn to the left right after leaving the underpass, and seems to be the most likely path to the terminals on the west. This fits the described path perfectly, even the distance is about right."

          You're absolutely right. Now I see there are a couple of different possible paths between the underpass and the western terminal. I was focusing my attention on another path (the car heading straight through the intersection), and only now do I notice the path you're helpfully pointing out (the car turning sharp left at the intersection). (One reason I focused where I did is that the map only shows the path I noticed, and not the path you noticed. I think this probably doesn't mean much; it's probably just a relatively accidental choice by the mapmaker. Of course both paths are evident on the photo.)

          "I don't think you can enter this area from the north."

          You've convinced me you're right, for all the good reasons you point out. I think the map might indicate some small connecting roads or service roads, but they're probably just that, designed for service vehicles only. So I think you're correct to more-or-less rule out an approach from the north.

          "There IS a northern loop that goes to the northern end of the eastern runways.  It is not shown in the photo, so we can't check it for the presence of an underpass.  The topology of the roads there do not indicate the need for any overpasses, so I'd guess there are not any there, but I suppose it's possible."

          I think you're right that a northern approach doesn't make sense, and also that it is unlikely there is an underpass in that (unphotographed) area, anyway.

          Because of your analysis, I'm convinced that virtually all the normal traffic to the airport would use the southern approach. And that's exactly why all the underpasses in the photo (with the minor exception of the one small one that's part of the large interchange east of the main runway) are in the detail I showed, or just north of the detail. This central area at the heart of the airport complex needs more elaborate road construction because it handles the main north-south artery to the main passenger terminal area (visible on the map but not shown on the large satellite image) but also has to allow traffic between the primary eastern runway area and the secondary western runway area.

          "It appears totally sensible that if they were going to the western terminal, they would have used the pictured underpass, made a hard left turn, and then things went wrong from their right as you describe.  I can see nothing implausible about them having to go past the exit and come back, so as to pass under the highway from west to east either.  Could be either way I suppose."

          I think that's a very clear summary of the two most likely scenarios. Both scenarios assume approach from the south. Frankly, I think your scenario (the former) makes more sense. It's just simpler.

          Also, it occurs to me now that the main (eastern) runway would be reserved for heavy military traffic. A small Falcon executive jet would logically be expected to stay out of the way and use the smaller (western) runway. It would be easy enough to verify this, but my hunch is that even the (relatively) small western runway would be quite long enough to handle this small but powerful aircraft.

          Here's some additional speculation. Assuming westbound travel through the underpass, followed by an immediate sharp left turn, that means the troops were positioned at the southwest corner of the small intersection that is directly west of the underpass. Remember how a little earlier I was assuming (incorrectly) that the car would have gone straight at that intersection, rather than turning left? I do still think that they could have done that, as an alternate means of reaching the western runway area. What I find interesting is that troops at the southwest corner of this intersection would have been perfectly positioned to attack the car, regardless of whether it turned or went straight.

          By the way, it seems that all access to the western runway area can be easily controlled by troops at two points (the underpass I highlighted and the underpass just to the north of it). Who knows, maybe there were also troops waiting at the northern underpass. But for various more-or-less obvious reasons, I think the southern underpass is the more likely candidate for where the attack actually occurred.

          These two locations (these two key intersections, near each other, both served by underpasses) are uniquely suited for an ambush. The ambusher could be assured that the target would have to pass through one of these two intersections (because there seems to be no other way to reach the western runway area). And, very importantly, the vehicle would be moving slowly, because they are small intersections. The rest of the route to the airport seems to consist of straight, unobstructed highway, i.e., the sort of terrain where numerous safe checkpoints could easily be constructed, but where an ambush of this nature would be very difficult.

          Thanks for adding so much to the analysis. This kind of collaboration is a big part of what makes this place a powerful force.

          •  Military/Civilain (none)
            Just another detail ...
            from http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/iraq/saddam-iap.htm
            "The airfield is a joint civil-military airport, with a civil international terminal on one side and a smaller military ramp on the other. The airport is served by a Class I runway 13,000 feet long and a second runway on the military side of the airfield measuring 8,800 feet."  I believe this means the eastern (longer) runway is the "civil" side and the western (shorter) runway is miilitary.  Either should be adequate for a biz jet, and who knows about dividing the usage in the current situation, so I don't think there's much importance to which side was originally intended for which use.  The Italian plane could plausibly have been on either side due to the government nature.

            Juke, I think you've put together a pretty good argument that the pictured underpass and adjoining roads are the likely site of the incident.  The point about the layout lending itself better to ambush than check point is unaltered by the direction of travel.  Still, these small details have a way of becoming important and any traction the theory gets should not be encumbered by any preventable weaknesses or holes.

            •  globalsecurity.org is a great resource (none)
              That's all helpful info.

              "Either should be adequate for a biz jet"

              Exactly. I looked around a bit at falconjet.com. It seems that these planes need up to 5-6000 feet to take off.

              "The Italian plane could plausibly have been on either side due to the government nature."

              I agree completely with this and all your other statements.

              "any traction the theory gets should not be encumbered by any preventable weaknesses or holes"

              I couldn't agree more, so I'm very grateful for your careful eyes that have sharpened up the analysis considerably.

  •  Privileged access (none)
    Sgrena said she thought the car was travelling down a "reserved access road" at the airport, not the main access road.

    The car was rented at the Baghdad Airport rental counter. It had to have had some sort of identifying licence plate as a rental, as well as a sticker.

    In today's Repubblica, she said that the driver had gotten out of the car and was conversing in English when a flare went up illuminated a Bradley vehicle. The troops opened fire on the back seat.  There was no "spotlight" as Fini says.

    •  Clarification? (none)
      "In today's Repubblica, she said that the driver had gotten out of the car and was conversing in English when a flare went up illuminated a Bradley vehicle. The troops opened fire on the back seat."

      I just want to be clear what you're saying here. Presumably you're not saying "the troops opened fire" after "the driver had gotten out of the car." Please clarify.

    •  "Reserved access road" (none)
      I interpret this to mean that they had left the main highway into the airport complex, and were now on a secondary road that is probably not used by routine passengers. I think this is consistent with the rest of the discussion here.
  •  Right turn or left turn? (none)
    I've been assuming it was a left turn. However, this recent diary quotes Sgrena as saying it was a right turn ("he slowed down because there was an elbow curve to the right"). That makes it harder for me to feel confident I understand what the route was. However, I'm still inclined to think I've picked the right underpass.

    Hopefully soon more info will come to light to make all this clearer.

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site