Sgrena and Calipari thought they'd escaped to safety, when an American patrol opened fire on their car. Sgrena was wounded; Calipari, an Italian national hero, was killed.
The incident has driven a wedge in the coalition. Last week in Rome, President Bush expressed his regret in person to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
How did it happen? The Army isn't talking. But in her first American television interview, Sgrena tells about the fatal rescue that has enraged Italy.
The death of Nicola Calipari carried the weight of a national tragedy in Italy. But most Italians had never heard of him before he was killed. They didn't know he was a secret agent who, over the months, had rescued a total of five kidnapped Italians in Iraq.
Giuliana Sgrena was Calipari's last assignment. In a video that Sgrena's captors forced her to make, the 56-year-old war reporter is seen begging, saying she would be killed if Italy didn't pull its troops out of Iraq.
She told 60 Minutes Wednesday that she feared beheading the most. She hoped they'd just shoot her instead. "I thought I am a woman, so they will kill me with a shot. Not cut me, the throat," says Sgrena.
60 Minutes Wednesday met with Sgrena and her husband on the balcony of their Rome apartment days after she left the hospital. She's recovering from a gunshot wound to her shoulder.
Sgrena, a veteran reporter for a communist newspaper, is against the war and has said so in her reporting. Her ordeal began when armed men yanked her out of her car in Baghdad. She ended up in a house, trying to show her captors she was tougher than they thought.
"Sometimes, they told me, 'Why you don't you cry?' Normally, I cry for everything when I am at home,'" says Sgrena. "And so my kidnappers told me, 'Cry. It will be better for you. Think of your family. So maybe you can cry.'"
But she says she didn't do it. The only time she says she cried was when the kidnappers ordered her to beg her husband, Pier, for help.
Her capture was a national obsession. Sgrena's face draped Rome's city hall, and the players on the city's leading soccer team wore "Liberate Giuliana" jerseys, which her kidnappers saw on TV, to their amazement.
The kidnappers were demanding that Italy pull its troops out of Iraq, but Sgrena told her captors what she thought of their chances. "I told them,'If you want me to ask to Berlusconi that we withdraw our troops, if not, you kill me. So, do it now,'" says Sgrena. "'Kill me now.'"
Instead of pulling his men out of Iraq, Berlusconi sent one more. In March, Calipari went to the Middle East to bargain with representatives of the men holding Sgrena. Her captors came to her to tell her the results.
"They told me, 'You are going to Rome,'" says Sgrena. "I am going to Rome? I couldn't believe."
We don't know what Calipari offered in exchange for Sgrena. There have been reports of a ransom that the Italians deny. But whatever it was, the kidnappers turned her over by leaving her in a parked car with cotton over her eyes, sunglasses and a headscarf.
The next thing she says she heard was Calipari's voice in her ear: "'Giuliana, Giuliana, I'm Nicola. I am a friend of Gabriele, of Pier. Now you are free. Come, don't be afraid. You are free. You are free.'"
"'You are free. You are free.' Yes, and this was really a very, very, it was just so happy, so really for me, it was a new life," says Sgrena.
Calipari took Sgrena to a car with another Italian agent at the wheel. They headed for the airport and the plane home.
Back in Rome, there were cameras in the newsroom as celebration erupted at Sgrena's paper. Her boss, Gabriele Polo, was summoned to Berlusconi's office, where the prime minister and Sgrena's husband were monitoring her rescue.
Sgrena says she was less than a half-mile from the airport, when the shooting began: "Seven hundred meters more, and we are in the airport, and we will be safe and we will be in the airport. And in the same moment, started the shooting."