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Italy raid claim absurd: US

Washington, March 7 (Reuters): The White House today rejected an Italian journalist's suggestion that she was targeted by US troops in Iraq in a shooting in which she was wounded and an Italian secret service agent was killed.

'I think it's absurd to make any such suggestion that our men and women in uniform deliberately targeted innocent civilians. That's just absurd,' said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

The journalist, Giuliana Sgrena, who writes for the communist daily Il Manifesto, had suggested she and the Italian secret service agent, Nicola Calipari, were targeted because the US opposes Italy's practice of negotiating with hostage takers.

McClellan said the road to the Baghdad airport where the incident took place 'is one of the most dangerous roads in Iraq,' a place where suicide bombings and various other attacks have taken place.

'It is a dangerous road and it is a combat zone that our coalition forces are in, and often times they have to make split-second decisions to protect their own security and we regret this incident, and we are going to fully investigate what exactly occurred,' McClellan said.

He said President George W. Bush considered Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi a good friend.

However, Bulgaria, another of America's allies in Iraq, blamed US troops today for the fatal shooting of one of its soldiers in Iraq and demanded punishment of those responsible.

A Bulgarian inquiry into the shooting last Friday found that soldier Gurdi Gurdev ' Bulgaria's eighth casualty since the start of the war in March 2003 ' was almost certainly killed by 'friendly fire' from nearby US forces. Sgrena and Calipari were the target of US friendly fire on the same day.

Defence minister Nikolai Svinarov said Gurdev was killed when his unit shot warning rounds in an attempt to halt an Iraqi vehicle and then came under heavy fire.

'Someone started shooting at our patrol from the west, and in the same direction, 150 metres away, there was a unit from the US army,' Svinarov said. 'The result (of the investigation) gives us enough grounds to believe the death of rifleman Gurdi Gurdev was caused by friendly fire.'

Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg and President Georgi Parvanov summoned the US ambassador in Sofia, and Parvanov later criticised US-led operations as badly coordinated.

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