By Lara Jakes and Qassim Abdul-Zahra / AP
BAGHDAD: Wearing a US Army uniform and flanked by Iraqi lawmakers, an American citizen announced Saturday that he was being released from more than nine months of imprisonment by a Shiite militia that for years targeted US troops.
The man did not identify himself. But at a bizarre press conference outside the Green Zone in Baghdad, lawmakers showed US-issued military and contractor ID cards that identified him as Randy Michael Hultz.
Speaking calmly and tripping over Arabic names in a monotone voice, Hultz said he was grateful for his release.
“It was explained to me that this is a gift to me, my family and to the American people who oppose the war,” he said at the press conference that was held for Iraqi media.
He gave scant details of what he described as a “kidnapping,” or how he was treated while captured.
“I was taken inside Baghdad and kept in and around different locations within the city,” Hultz said. The kidnappers, he said, were from the Promised Day Brigade, a branch of the Mahdi Army, which is a militia that is controlled by the anti-American cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr.
Al-Sadr’s militia led some of the bloodiest attacks against American troops at the height of the sectarian fighting in Iraq that brought the country to the brink of civil war. Followers of the cleric, who currently is believed to be studying in Iran, led the government’s demands for US troops to leave Iraq last December after nearly nine years of war.
Al-Sadr disbanded most of his militia and joined politics although he kept the Promised Day Brigade, a smaller group of fighters who carried out attacks against US troops and facilities.
The Shiite cleric’s political wing has 40 lawmakers in parliament, two of whom appeared with Hultz late Saturday.
Hultz was flanked at the press conference by lawmakers Maha Al-Douri and Qusay Al-Suhail, the deputy speaker of Iraq’s parliament. Al-Douri read a statement she said was from the Promised Day Brigade, which said it kidnapped Hultz mainly as “revenge for the beloved Iraqi nation and restrain for the American forces.”
Al-Douri said the militia released Hultz without any negotiating or pressure from the government or diplomats. She called the release “a gift to his family” and “to explain the picture of real Islam.”
“This is a clear message from the sons of Iraq to the US administration about the good will to liberate Iraq and its complete sovereignty,” she said. She said Hultz is 59.
Hultz said he deployed to Iraq in 2003 as an active-duty soldier but left the military after 15 months. At that point, he said, he worked in a “civilian capacity” until his kidnapping on June 18, 2011.
Hultz did not wear any patches on his Amy green digitalized camouflage uniform that would identify his rank or what unit he may have served with.
According to the two ID cards displayed at the press conference, he was active-duty military from January 2004 to February 2005, and a US contractor from December 2005 to November 2007.
Sadrist officials said Hultz was taken into the Green Zone immediately after the press conference and turned over to the United Nations mission in Iraq. UN spokeswoman Radhia Achouri confirmed that the man was at the mission’s compound Saturday night while the US Embassy in Baghdad tried to verify his identity.
He was transferred to the US Embassy late Saturday, spokesman Michael McClellan said.
Even Iraqi security forces were taken aback at the announcement. A senior Iraqi security official said intelligence indicated that the Promised Day Brigade had captured an American, but did not have enough reliable information to confirm it.
The official said two other Americans who worked as contractors for security firms still are being held by insurgents. He did not elaborate, and spoke only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
Hundreds of thousands of contractors, both American and other nationalities, worked alongside American troops and in other support roles throughout the war. Thousands still remain to help train Iraqi security forces on military equipment and to protect the massive US Embassy in Baghdad and its diplomats across Iraq.
Senior Sadrist politician Abdul Hadi Al-Mutairi said Hultz is married and has two sons. He “was treated well during his nine month imprisonment,” Al-Mutairi said, even though he said Hultz contributed in US battles against the Madhi Army in the Sadr City neighborhood in Baghdad and the holy Shiite city of Najaf, south of the capital.
Associated Press Writer Robert Burns contributed to this report.