Iran suspected in Karbala killings of US troops

NY Times:

Investigators say they believe that attackers who used American-style uniforms and weapons to infiltrate a secure compound and kill five American soldiers in Karbala on Jan. 20 may have been trained and financed by Iranian agents, according to American and Iraqi officials knowledgeable about the inquiry.

The officials said the sophistication of the attack astonished investigators, who doubt that Iraqis could have carried it out on their own — one reason a connection to Iran is being closely examined. Officials cautioned that no firm conclusions had been drawn and did not reveal any direct evidence of a connection.

A senior Iraqi official said the attackers had carried forged American identity cards and American-style M-4 rifles and had thrown stun grenades of a kind used only by American forces here.

Tying Iran to the deadly attack could be helpful to the Bush administration, which has been engaged in an escalating war of words with Iran.

One American soldier was killed during the initial attack and four more were abducted and killed shortly afterward as the police pursued the sport utility vehicles used in the attack.

The attack was focused on a meeting at a joint security station, where American and Iraqi forces mesh their efforts in the new security plan.

An Iraqi knowledgeable about the investigation said four suspects had been detained and questioned. Based on those interviews, investigators have concluded that as they fled Karbala with the abducted Americans, the attackers used advanced devices to monitor police communications and avoid the roads where the police were searching.

The suspects have also told investigators that “a religious group in Najaf” was involved in the operation, the Iraqi said, in a clear reference to the Mahdi Army, the militia controlled by the breakaway Shiite cleric, Moktada al-Sadr. If that information holds up, it would dovetail with assertions by several Iraqi officials that Iran is financing and training a small number of splinter groups from the Mahdi Army to carry out special operations and assassinations.

...
This report appears to confirm a report by Bill Roggio linked here on January 27 that first reported the Iranian connection. The NY Times seems to be concerned with how these facts may help the administration make the case of Iranian involvement in Iraq. The story specifically noted a connection to Sadr's militia. If Iran was involved it is possible that it wanted to kidnap the soldiers and trade them for the Iranians captured in the Irbil raid by US forces.

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