Randy Michaels, a former American soldier who was acting in a "civilian capacity" in Iraq, was freed after 9 months of captivity. He was held by members of the militia loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr.
The Iraqis are identifying Micahaels as a soldier but the Pentagon says there were no American military personnel being held in Iraq.
He was handed over to the United Nations mission in Baghdad, which transferred him to the U.S. embassy. Washington confirmed he was a U.S. citizen but released no further details.
In brief remarks to Iraqi journalists hastily convened to witness his release, Michaels said he had deployed to Iraq in 2003 and initially served there as a soldier for 15 months.
He remained in Iraq "in a civilian capacity from then until June of 2011, when I was taken hostage by elements of Yom al-Maoud," he said, referring to the Promised Day Brigade, an offshoot of Sadr's Mehdi Army militia.
"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."
Sadrist lawmakers repeatedly described him as an American soldier. However, the Pentagon says none of its serving troops have been listed as hostages in Iraq since the remains of the last missing soldier were recovered last month.
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the Promised Day Brigade had made the decision to free their captive in light of the confirmation that U.S. troops had withdrawn from Iraq.
We should wait for some details to emerge from this story before speculating too much, but a lot of things don't add up -- including the misidentification of Michaels as a "soldier." There is also a question about just what this fellow was doing in Iraq, and finally, why the release of Michaels now? I don't really buy the "humanitarian gesture" notion -- not coming from that cutthroat Sadr. And they seemed to go out of their way to say there was no exchange, no quid pro quo involved.
We haven't heard the last of this story.