BAGHDAD — Iraqi security forces arrested five U.S. contractors suspected of playing a role in last month's slaying of an American in Baghdad's Green Zone, Iraqi security officials said Sunday.
The suspects could face charges in an Iraqi court, which would make them the first Americans to stand trial before the Iraqi judiciary since the U.S. and Iraqi governments signed a bilateral security agreement late last year that in part allowed for such cases.
Maj. Gen. Hussein Ali Kamal, the head of the Interior Ministry's intelligence service, said the men were being held for questioning in connection with the death of Jim Kitterman inside the sealed-off enclave, home to the Iraqi government and embassies.
"An investigation unit at the Interior Ministry investigated the murder and reached the conclusion that the Americans who worked with [the victim] . . . are suspected of killing him," Kamal said. "These people are under arrest and will be interrogated according to a judicial order."
Kamal declined to say how many suspects were being held, but an Iraqi government spokesman told Reuters news agency that five U.S. nationals had been arrested.
Kitterman, a 60-year-old Texan who owned a construction company, was found dead May 22. He had reportedly been stabbed, blindfolded and bound, and left inside his car.
A relative of two of the suspects insisted that the men were innocent and would be released within a couple of days. John Feeney said the suspects included his father, Donald Feeney Jr., brother Donald Feeney III and two other employees of his father's security company, Corporate Training Unlimited, or CTU. A fifth man who lived on their compound was also taken into custody, John Feeney said.
He spoke by telephone from North Carolina, where CTU has its U.S. headquarters.
"We're pretty positive that . . . they'll be released in a couple of days," Feeney said.
The five men were arrested Friday morning when about 40 Iraqi security officers, accompanied by Americans in civilian clothes, surrounded the CTU compound, Feeney said. He said that at the time of Kitterman's death, his father was not in the country and his brother and two of the other men were at a U.S. Embassy party.
He described his father, an Army Special Forces veteran, and Kitterman as good friends. At one time, Kitterman had an office at the CTU compound, he said.
A U.S. Embassy spokesman confirmed that five Americans were being held by the Iraqis and had been visited by consular officials. They looked well-treated, he said.
The spokesman declined to say why they were being held.
In November, the Iraqi and U.S. governments signed an agreement under which Iraq regained control of its security. According to the pact, U.S. forces are scheduled to withdraw from Iraqi cities by the end of this month and from the country by the end of 2011.
The agreement did away with the immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts that Western contractors had enjoyed since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Times staff writer Usama Redha contributed to this report.