US military probing Iran link in Iraq attack that killed five

Date: 01-31-07

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The US military is investigating whether Iranian agents were involved in a raid on an Iraqi compound in which five US soldiers were killed, US defense officials said.

The suspicions of Iranian involvement in the attack in Karbala by armed men dressed as US troops come amid mounting accusations by Washington that Iranian agents are helping insurgents attack US forces in Iraq.

A senior US defense official said the investigation was not completed and no conclusions have been reached, but suspicion is growing that Iranians were involved in the January 20 raid.

"It's becoming a line of inquiry," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A second defense official also confirmed that investigators were looking for an Iranian connection in part because the operation was so sophisticated involving an elaborate ruse to penetrate the compound's security.

The New York Times reported separately that investigators believe the attackers may have been financed and trained by Iranian agents.

The attackers, who arrived at the compound in a convoy of at least five sports utility vehicles, used US-style weaponry, uniforms and documents to sweep by Iraqi security.

They then stormed a building housing a Joint Provincial Coordination Center in a blaze of gunfire and grenades, killing a US soldier and then withdrawing with four others as hostages, the US military said.

Iraqi police later found the vehicles near the town of Al-Mahawil, east of Karbala.

"Two soldiers were found handcuffed together in the back of one of the SUVs. Both had suffered gunshot wounds and were dead. A third soldier was found shot and dead on the ground," the statement said.

"Nearby, the fourth soldier was still alive, despite a gunshot wound to the head. He was rushed to a nearby hospital but died on the way."

The US military has said it detained four suspects at a house near where the vehicles were abandoned.

A Pentagon spokesman would not confirm or deny whether investigators are probing Iranian involvement in the attack.

"Obviously that attack in Karbala was troubling," said Bryan Whitman. "Five servicemembers lost their lives. There was a level of sophistication that is concerning. Nobody more than the command there wants to get to the bottom of all the facts."

"I know there has been some speculation, I know there has been some suspicion, but let's let the investigation conclude and figure out what occurred," he said.

The attack followed a US crackdown on Iranians operating in Iraq, including a US raid in the northern city of Irbil in which five Iranians were detained over protests by Tehran that they were members of its consular staff.

The White House last week confirmed that President George W. Bush has authorized US forces to capture or kill Iranian spies or Iranian Revolutionary Guards operating in Iraq.

The number two commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, told USA Today Iran is supplying insurgents with Katyusha rockets, armor-piercing rocket propelled grenades, and the technology and components for armor-piercing shaped explosives.

"We have weapons that we know through serial numbers ... that trace back to Iran," Odierno told the newspaper.


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