Kidnapping of American in Iraq sparked by faltering reconciliation talks
The kidnapping of an Iraqi-American working with the US military in Iraq appears to have been sparked by a faltering reconciliation effort to bring a militant Shiite group into the political process, US officials say.
The kidnapping of an Iraqi-American military contractor in Baghdad appears to be the work of a splinter group in response to a breakdown in political reconciliation talks in Iraq rather than a return to the high-profile kidnappings of Westerners, according to US military officials and analysts.Skip to next paragraph
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Issa Salomi, a linguist working on an Army project to map tribal structures, was seized on Jan. 23 while visiting relatives in the Karrada neighborhood of Baghdad, according to the US military. A Shiite extremist group, The League of the Righteous, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, (AAH) last week released a video of Mr. Salomi dressed in a US Army uniform and calling for the release of insurgents who fought American forces - and the expulsion of former Blackwater security guards..
It was the first known abduction of a US citizen since Iraqi-American US Army specialist Ahmed al-Ta’ie, also a linguist, was seized while visiting relatives in the same area of Baghdad in 2007. Al-Ta’ie, since promoted to the rank of sergeant, has never been found. The most recent abduction has raised fears that insurgent groups might be reviving the tactic of kidnapping foreigners, once commonly carried out by Al Qaeda in Iraq and other groups.
But a senior US military leader, speaking on condition of anonymity, says the kidnapping appears to be a one-off incident possibly sparked by the Iraqi government’s recent arrest of two mid-level members of the AAH, which US officials say is backed by Iran.
He said the group, which broke away from the movement of militant Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr after Sadr agreed to a ceasefire in 2008, appears to have further splintered after its leader Sheikh Qais al-Khazali renounced attacks on Iraqi forces and was released from US and Iraqi custody. The release was an apparent exchange for a British hostage and the bodies of three of his bodyguards and seen as key to reconciliation between the Iraqi government and Shiite militant groups.
“What I think has happened…is that there are elements within AAH that are not following any orders from Qais…. We believe it is that element out of that group that is pursuing their kidnapping campaign,” says the senior U.S. official.
Analysts say they believe that kidnapping Americans has become more of a political liability than a windfall for many insurgent groups.
“The Sunnis still need the US to be their interlocutor with the Shiite-dominated government; the Shi'a have an interest in a stable state where they can start the oil flowing – kidnapping runs counter to both those objectives,” says Doug Ollivant, a former director for Iraq at the US National Security Council.
Maneuvering ahead of elections
Although Iran is thought to have eased off on fostering attacks in Iraq in recent months, the shadowy world of the Iranian-backed Shiite militant groups are a main priority of Iraqi government reconciliation efforts ahead of the March 7 elections.