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American contractor kidnapped in Iraq

By Ernesto Londoño and Leila Fadel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, February 6, 2010; 11:00 AM

BAGHDAD -- The Pentagon has acknowledged that an American contractor for the Defense Department is missing in Baghdad, an apparent confirmation of a Shiite militant group's claim this week that it abducted an American in Baghdad last month.

The case marks the first reported kidnapping of an American citizen in Iraq in more than 18 months.

The Pentagon said in a statement that contractor Issa T. Salomi, 60, of El Cajon, Calif., has been missing since Jan. 23. He was last seen in Baghdad, where he worked alongside U.S. soldiers. Salomi's wife, Muna, confirmed that the man in the video is her husband.

Salomi was abducted in Karrada, an upscale neighborhood in central Baghdad, after militants tricked him under the pretense of meeting with distant relatives, the Associated Press reported, citing Iraqi defense officials. The AP said Salomi is of Iraqi origin.

The League of the Righteous, a militant group that has kidnapped Westerners in Iraq in the past, posted a statement and video on its Web site showing the hostage. The statement demanded the release of militants who have fought U.S. forces.

The Pentagon said in a statement that "search and recovery efforts are ongoing" but disclosed no additional information.

The group also called for the punishment of guards employed by Blackwater Worldwide -- now known as Xe Services -- who were involved in a shooting incident in Baghdad in September 2007 that claimed the lives of 14 Iraqis.

In a short video released by the militant group, a man wearing U.S. combat fatigues -- which U.S. interpreters wear -- says he is in good health and reports that he is being treated humanely.

The man, who does not identify himself, 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."

The man also says the Blackwater guards involved in the shooting in the capital's Nisoor Square should face "proper justice" and "proper punishment" for what he describes as "unjustifiable crimes against innocent Iraqi civilians who were bystanders."

A U.S. District judge dismissed an indictment Dec. 31 against five of the guards charged in the shooting, saying prosecutors and investigators made serious mistakes in preparing the case.

In the video, the captive speaks calmly and is seen sitting on a chair in front of a banner bearing the name of the militant group.

"I would also like to relay the justifiable demands of the Iraqi Islamic resistance movement for the complete withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraq so Iraq can become a sovereign nation again," he says at the end of the video.

Reached at home, Salomi's wife Muna, 52, said she was distraught.

"I'm very sick," she said. "I cannot talk."

Last month, Qais al-Khazaali, a leading figure in the League of the Righteous and a former lieutenant to fiery Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, was released from U.S. custody and freed by Iraqi officials. His release came a day after the release of British hostage Peter Moore, who was abducted in 2006 from the Iraqi Finance Ministry, along with four bodyguards.

Those releases were widely seen as an exchange.

The League of the Righteous has been in reconciliation talks with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government. Last week, however, group leaders accused the government of balking on its promise to release detainees.

U.S. military officials say they fear violence could surge if talks between the group and the Iraqi government collapse.

Special correspondent Qais Mizher contributed to this report.

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