How Is This Possible?: Militants Free American NO ONE Knew Was Missing
March 17th, 2012
The New York Times / By JACK HEALY
BAGHDAD — An American man who said he had been kidnapped nine months ago by Iraqi militants was handed over to United States officials in Baghdad on Saturday night in a bizarre and murky series of events that caught diplomats here by surprise.
Speaking at a news conference in Baghdad, the camouflage-clad American, identified as Rand Hultz, said he was a former soldier who had returned to Iraq as a civilian contractor before being kidnapped last June by a Shiite paramilitary group loyal to the anti-American Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr. He said he had been shuffled from house to house around Baghdad before his release on Saturday.
“It was explained to me that this is a gift to me, my family and the American people who opposed the war,” Mr. Hultz said in a stilted, sometimes halting deadpan during the news conference. “Without a doubt I and my family thank Saeed Moktada al-Sadr.”
At the news conference, Sadrist politicians called the American’s release a demonstration of the “humanitarian and moral standards of the Iraqi Islamic resistance” meant to cultivate good will after the American military’s withdrawal from Iraq.
They said there had been no negotiations with the Americans — Mr. Hultz was released to United Nations officials, who then turned him over to the Americans.
Officials at the United States Embassy were scrambling on Saturday night to understand what had happened. They said they had no records of any American citizen still considered missing in Iraq, and some learned of his resurfacing from news reports. The State Department confirmed that the United Nations had transferred an American citizen to the embassy in Baghdad, but cited privacy laws that prevented them from releasing his name, or any details about him, without his consent.
Americans face a near constant risk of kidnapping in Iraq, both inside and outside the protected International Zone where diplomats work and live.
Although American officials would not confirm details of Mr. Hultz’s background, information found online suggests he is a former Army sergeant who served in Iraq in 2004 and was lured back by the promise of wealth in a country that has attracted its share of adventurous investors.
Mr. Hultz’s ex-wife, Kendra Hultz, said in a telephone interview that she knew Mr. Hultz had been in Iraq, but that she and their daughter and son had little contact with him and did not know what he had been doing in Baghdad. “He just disappeared,” she said.
In May 2008, an NPR report about Western entrepreneurs in Iraq featured Mr. Hultz, who said he had returned to Baghdad to help oversee investments for a venture called the Iraq Fund. He described real estate deals, the feeling of ferrying bags of cash in the streets and a few of the challenges facing Iraq’s economy.
In 2004, a military public affairs article about life in Iraq’s war-torn south described Sgt. Rand Hultz as a former National Guard officer who signed up for active duty after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In the article, Sergeant Hultz talked about the bonds that form during a long deployment.
“It’s funny,” Sergeant Hultz was quoted as saying. “The more we hate each other, the closer we move together.”