Followers of Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr freed an American former soldier on Saturday after holding him captive in Baghdad for nine months.
The American, identified as Randy Michaels, was shown on television in a U.S. military uniform with no insignia, flanked by two members of parliament from Sadr’s movement, including the parliament’s first deputy speaker.
The lawmakers described him as an American soldier, but Mr. Michaels said he was a former service member working in a civilian capacity at the time he was captured, last June.
He said he had been held by the Yom al-Maoud, or Promised Day Brigade, an offshoot of Sadr’s Mehdi Army militia which remained armed after Sadr disbanded most Mehdi Army units in 2008.
“I was taken inside Baghdad and have been kept in and around different locations within the city by al-Maoud. It was explained to me that my release has been for humanitarian purposes and there was no exchange involved,” he said in remarks shown on Iraq’s Bagdadiya television.
The Pentagon has said none of its serving troops are believed to be held in Iraq since last month when it recovered the remains of the last missing soldier.
Maha al-Douri, a lawmaker from Sadr’s bloc said: “We declare the release of the American soldier, Randy Michaels, without any compensation, according to the instructions of Moqtada al-Sadr, as a gift from him to the soldier’s family and to his people, and to correct the image of Islam.”
Qusay al-Souhail, deputy parliament speaker, said the leadership of the Promised Day Brigade had made the decision to free their captive in light of the confirmation that U.S. troops had withdrawn from Iraq.
The Sadr officials said Mr. Michaels had been turned over to the UN mission in Baghdad. A spokeswoman for the mission declined to comment. The U.S. embassy could not immediately be reached and U.S. officials in Washington were not immediately available for comment.
Nine years after the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, the United States withdrew its forces from Iraq in December, with the exception of a few hundred service members stationed as part of the diplomatic mission at its embassy.
The U.S. mission still includes 2,000 diplomats and, as of last year, 14,000 civilian contractors. The embassy says the number of contractors has declined since then but does not release updated figures.