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Media Report Iraqi Forces Detained U.S. Contractors

Blackwater private security contractors in a 2005 photo
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi forces detained five U.S. security contractors in connection with the killing of a fellow American contractor last month in Baghdad's Green Zone, CNN reported, citing sources close to the investigation.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman in the Iraqi capital confirmed five U.S. citizens were taken into custody by Iraqi authorities, but said no charges had been brought against them so far.

The five men could become the first Americans to face local justice since a bilateral security pact that came into force in January made U.S. contractors subject to Iraqi law.

"Embassy consular officials have visited the five and ensured they are being afforded their rights under Iraqi law. The men appeared well," the U.S. spokesman told Reuters.

He said an investigation was underway, but gave no other details. The Iraqi authorities did not immediately comment.

Citing an unnamed Iraqi official involved in the investigation, CNN said the men had been detained on June 5 in a pre-dawn raid on their company's office in the Green Zone.

CNN said they were being held in connection with the killing last month of James Kitterman, a 60-year-old Texan who owned a construction company operating in Iraq.

Kitterman was found bound, blindfolded and stabbed to death on May 22 in the heavily-fortified district.

Citing unnamed sources, CNN said the five men knew the victim and that the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was involved in the probe into his death.

Heavily-armed and highly-paid Western contractors are a common sight in Iraq, especially in the Green Zone, also known as the International Zone. Many provide security for the U.S. military in Iraq while others protect private firms.

The security agreement between Washington and Baghdad sets terms for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and establishes guidelines for their activities while they remain.

It also allows U.S. troops to be tried in Iraqi courts -- but only in cases of serious, premeditated crimes committed while soldiers were off-base and off-duty.

Private contractors, previously immune to prosecution in Iraq, are now wholly bound by Iraqi laws.

Under the pact, U.S. combat troops were scheduled to withdraw from Iraqi towns and cities by the end of this month, while all U.S. troops must leave the country by December 31, 2011.