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.
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Under Sheikh al-Khazali and his brother Laith, AAH agreed to renounce attacks on Iraqis with the aim of entering the political process in return for a commitment not to arrest its members and for negotiations to free those in custody.Skip to next paragraph
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“This one was probably the hardest for the US command to swallow but also the clearest politically,” says a former US military leader who requested anonymity. “The Khazalis were going to be released eventually…it was a question of what we could get.”
“I think we look at it from a practical standpoint. If it stops the killing and it stops the violence it makes sense,” says the senior US military official. “You can’t change what happened but if you can change what’s going to happen…. So we’re all for getting this country back on its feet and moving forward.”
AAH announced last week that it was abandoning reconciliation talks with the Iraqi government after more than a year of negotiations and prisoner exchanges. The split appears to have occurred after an Iraqi and US special forces targeting a suspected member of another allegedly Iranian-backed group, the Promised Day Brigade, detained two mid-level AAH members who were with him. The men were caught with weapons and other contraband and are still in Iraqi custody, according to the US official.
In the video, Salomi, from El Cajon, Calif. says he is being treated humanely and calls for the release of "those detainees who have resisted the occupation and that have never been involved in any serious crime against their fellow innocent Iraqis."
Demand for Blackwater exodus
He also says the Blackwater guards involved in a 2007 shooting in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square should face justice and ‘proper punishment’ for crimes against Iraqi civilian bystanders. Seventeen Iraqis were killed when Blackwater guards protecting a US convoy opened fire in the crowded square in an incident which became a symbol for Iraqis of abuses during the US occupation.
A U.S. judge dismissed an indictment on Dec 31 against five of the guards charged in the shootings, citing flawed evidence. Vice President Joe Biden in a visit to Baghdad last month said he personally regretted the court decision and would seek to have the case go to trial.
This week Iraq’s interior minister ordered 250 contractors who had worked for Blackwater at the time of the shootings out of Iraq. The company has since rebranded itself as Xe but many of the former Blackwater guards have remained in Iraq, working for other companies providing security and aviation services to the US embassy.
Salomi was working as an interpreter on one of the Army’s Human Terrain Teams, according to military sources. The teams, made up of social scientists, are part of a controversial project to provide more cultural background to the military in Iraq and Afghanstan. The US military says it has helped with reconciliation efforts by providing insight into tribal dynamics.