Iraq releases three US contractors held in murder case

Two are still in custody. The case is seen as a test of the new agreement between the US and Iraq that allows Americans to be tried in the Iraqi legal system.

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After holding them for nearly a week, Iraqi officials have released three of the five US contractors arrested as part of the investigation of last month's Green Zone murder. Although the men are not allowed to leave Iraq, they have been released from jail because off the lack of evidence against them. The contractors say they are innocent of any wrongdoing.

Last month, American contractor Jim Kitterman was found stabbed to death and wrapped in plastic inside Baghdad's secure Green Zone. The five contractors were arrested during a raid on their compound last week. Although Iraqi officials initially implied they might be connected with the killing, they have not been formally charged with a crime and the reasons for their detention remain unclear. An Iraqi judge said Wednesday that the allegations against the men were unwarranted.

If any of the men are charged and brought before the court, the incident will mark the first time US contractors have been forced to face justice in the Iraqi legal system as part of the new US-Iraqi security agreement that took affect this year. The BBC reports that the case of the five US contractors is being seen as a test of this new agreement.

The role of US contractors came under intense scrutiny after the killing of up to 17 civilians in Baghdad in 2007 by private security guards from the US company Blackwater.
The incident led the Iraqi government to revoke the immunity from prosecution that private contractors had enjoyed in the first six years of the war. Under the new joint security pact, private contractors are wholly bound by Iraqi law.

The Iraqi government has not been clear as to why the men were initially taken into custody. While the contractors were originally told that they were being detained as suspects in Mr. Kitterman's murder, authorities later told them that they were being held for allegedly possessing unregistered weapons, reports CNN.

Although there are conflicting reports about the allegations against the two contractors who remain in custody, their attorney, Timothy Haake, told The Washington Times that he expects they will be released soon.

"We really don't know why they were arrested yet," Mr. Haake said. "There were a lot of weapons in there. There were concerns about whether some of the weapons were properly registered or the registrations had expired."
Mr. Haake said the release of the men could be delayed because their passports cannot be found in the ransacked house, but the process has so far worked well, the Americans are being treated fairly and are eager to return to work in Baghdad.

However, Al Arabiya reports that the two men still in custody may face charges unrelated to Kitterman's murder. Judge Abdel Sattar Birakdar, spokesman for Iraq's Higher Judicial Council, told the Arabic satellite television station that "it was discovered [the two other contractors] committed another crime and investigations are ongoing with them."

According to Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh, the two men still in custody are being held due to "drug issues," reports Reuters. Other reports indicate that authorities found evidence unrelated to the murder while searching their rooms.

Four of the contractors worked for the Corporate Training Unlimited (CTU) security firm and the fifth was staying with them, reports the Los Angeles Times. CTU, which trains businesses and officials how to operate safely in hostile environments, was run by a father-and-son team, Donald Feeney Jr. and Donald Feeney III. Since the two men's arrest, family members have spoken out publicly on their behalf.

The Feeney family has insisted that all five men are innocent. Feeney Jr.'s other son, John Feeney, said Sunday that his father had flown back to Iraq from the Philippines on May 22, the day Kitterman's body was discovered, and his brother and two of the other detainees were at an embassy party at the time the contractor was thought to have been killed. He described his father and Kitterman as close friends.

A weeklong investigation by Iraqi authorities and Federal Bureau of Investigation yielded no evidence that linked the men to the murder and authorities have no other suspects, said Mr. al-Dabbagh, the government spokesman, in an interview with The Washington Post. Those close to the contractors say that, at this point, much about their situation and the charges that could be leveled against them remains murky.

Sarah Smith, a spokeswoman for [CTU] … said that only Don Feeney Jr., the ... founder of the company, was being freed. Until now, she added, "nobody has made it clear why they were arrested in the first place or why they're being detained a week later."
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