Several Iraqis have been detained for questioning in the ongoing investigation of at least two senior Iraqi generals suspected of involvement in an insurgent attack that killed five American soldiers on Jan. 20, U.S. officials told FOX News on Thursday.
The attack occurred at a provincial government security compound in Karbala where the Americans were meeting with local Iraqi security officers. Gunmen stormed the facility dressed like American soldiers and driving SUVs, military officials in Iraq said.
The Pentagon has called this a sophisticated and troubling assault and much more orchestrated than the usual attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces. Because of that, military officials say they have strong suspicions that the Iranian government or elements of it may have been involved. Four of the five American soldiers were abducted before being shot execution style.
The raid, which began after nightfall at about 6 p.m. local time, was carried out by nine to 12 militants wearing new U.S. military fatigues and traveling in black GMC Suburban vehicles — the type used by U.S. government convoys. U.S. officials said the imposters had American weapons and spoke English.
The bodies of four of the five U.S. soldiers killed in the attack were found later miles away from the compound suggesting they may have briefly been kidnapped before they died.
The military said two of the soldiers were handcuffed together in the back seat of an SUV near the southern Iraqi town of Mahawil. A third dead soldier was on the ground nearby and a fourth died en route to the hospital.
"The precision of the attack, the equipment used and the possible use of explosives to destroy the military vehicles in the compound suggests that the attack was well rehearsed prior to execution," said Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, spokesman for Multi-National Division-Baghdad.
"The attackers went straight to where Americans were located in the provincial government facility, bypassing the Iraqi police in the compound," he said. "We are looking at all the evidence to determine who or what was responsible for the breakdown in security at the compound and the perpetration of the assault."
This is the first reported time that gunmen have apparently been able to pass themselves off as American soldiers to carry out an attack.
At least one of the Iraqi generals under suspicion for involvement or having advance word of the attack is said to be an intelligence officer, according to U.S. officials. If that's proven to be the case, the involvement of Iraqi generals in an attack on American forces raises questions about the loyalty and trustworthiness of Iraqi military officers at the highest levels.
Those concerns would be compounded if it's determined that Iran had a hand in the attack.
Pvt. Johnathon M. Millican, 1st Lt. Jacob Fritz, Capt. Brian S. Freeman, Pfc. Shawn P. Falter and Spc. Johnathan Bryan Chism died in the attack.
FOX News' Nick Simeone and Mike Emanuel and the Associated Press contributed to this report.