Iraqi authorities have detained five U.S. citizens in connection with the death of an American contractor in Baghdad, officials said Sunday, in what could be the first case of Americans facing local justice under a joint security pact that took effect this year.
The body of Jim Kitterman, who was reportedly bound, blindfolded and stabbed, was found in his car last month in the protected Green Zone where his small construction company was based.
It was an unprecedented slaying in the sprawling district and occurred at a time when blast walls are coming down and Iraqi forces are assuming greater control of their own security.
U.S Embassy spokesman James Fennell confirmed that five Americans are in Iraqi custody but said no formal charges have been filed so he couldn't provide further details about the detention.
Embassy officials have visited the men to make sure they're being given their rights in accordance with Iraqi law, Fennell said, adding "the men appeared well."
Maj. Gen. Hussein Ali Kamal, a senior Iraqi Interior Ministry official, said the detained Americans were from the same company as the slain contractor, but he declined to give more details because the investigation is ongoing.
Although Americans and others have been killed in rocket or mortar attacks in the Green Zone, Kitterman was believed to be the first American ever assassinated there since the protected area was established after the city fell to U.S. forces in April 2003.
Iraq assumed control of the Green Zone on Jan. 1 under a U.S.-Iraqi security agreement, taking primary responsibility from the Americans for searching vehicles and checking identity papers as entry checkpoints.
The Iraqis have begun removing some of the protective blast falls around the Green Zone — part of a campaign to restore a sense of normalcy as violence in the city has waned.
Violence, however, continues.
A rocket or mortar slammed into the Green Zone Sunday morning but no casualties were reported, according to the U.S. military.
The attack came just over two weeks after American was killed when a rocket struck the sprawling area that houses the U.S. Embassy and much of the Iraqi government.