By Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. intelligence agencies investigating the kidnapping of three Americans in Baghdad, Iraq last week are focusing their probe on three militant Islamic groups closely affiliated with Iran, U.S. government sources said on Thursday.
Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Kata'ib Hezbollah and the Badr Organization are the principle focus of the investigation into the armed kidnapping of the three Americans in the Dora neighborhood, south of Baghdad, the sources said.
The three men are employed by a still-unidentified small company doing work for General Dynamics under a larger contract with the U.S. Army.
The U.S. government still does not know if any of the three groups kidnapped the three men. While the three groups have close ties to Iran, sources said the United States does not believe Iran was involved in the kidnapping, or that the three are being held in Iran.
Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Kata'ib Hezbollah and the Badr Organization are Shi'ite militia groups that are part of Iraq's Popular Mobilization Front, a group closely tied to Iran, according to the Counter Terrorism Project, a New York-based advocacy group.
The Iraqi government has struggled to rein in the Shi'ite militias, many of which fought the U.S. military following the 2003 invasion. Shi'ite militias have previously been accused of killing and abducting American nationals.
Hostility between Tehran and Washington has eased in recent months with the lifting of crippling economic sanctions against Iran in return for compliance with a deal to curb its nuclear ambitions and a recent prisoner swap.
However, the United States imposed sanctions on 11 companies and individuals on Sunday for supplying Iran's ballistic missile program.
(Reporting By Mark Hosenball; writing by David Greising; Editing by Andrew Hay)