- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 28, 2010

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Issa Salomi’s first call home was to his 27-year-old son, Roger. He said memories of the birth of the oldest of his four boys and his son’s childhood sustained him after he was kidnapped in Baghdad in January.

A few hours later, the Iraqi-American contractor called his wife of 30 years, Muna, and asked for her homemade tabbouleh when he arrived home.

The Pentagon said Saturday that Mr. Salomi was back under U.S. military control but gave no details on his disappearance or return. The family said he is expected to arrive at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio within a week.

A Shi’ite extremist group claimed responsibility for the Jan. 23 kidnapping and posted a video online that showed a man wearing military fatigues and reading a list demands for the release of militants, the prosecution of Blackwater guards and an immediate U.S. troop withdrawal.

The group issued a statement Sunday indicating Mr. Salomi’s release came in exchange for the release by the Iraqi government of four of its members.

Asaib Ahl al-Haq, known in English as the League of the Righteous, said the four were freed “in response to our demands following the capture of the American officer” — a reference to Mr. Salomi, who was not identified by name.

The statement’s authenticity could not be verified, but it was posted on a Web site commonly used by the group.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Sunday he had “no information that anyone was released in return” for Mr. Salomi.

Mrs. Salomi, 50, was convinced she would never see her husband again when she saw the video. She and his extended family spoke with him Friday for about 30 minutes.

“We love you; we miss you; we can’t wait to see you,” she remembers telling him.

The family learned he was safe Thursday afternoon, but U.S. authorities asked them not to say anything publicly until Saturday.

Mr. Salomi, 60, was raised in Baghdad as the youngest of four children and studied civil engineering in England. His father worked as a photographer for the Iraqi monarchy.

Mr. Salomi arrived in the United States in 1991, days before U.S. forces invaded Iraq, with the help of his older sister, who arrived in Syracuse, N.Y., from Baghdad in 1974. The family wanted to move to the United States for “a better life” and to get medical care for a wheelchair-bound son, his wife said.

Mr. Salomi became a U.S. citizen and returned to Iraq in 2007 on an assignment from an Army contractor. He returned to San Diego occasionally to visit, most recently between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

In Iraq, Mr. Salomi was employed as a linguist for the American troops, according to U.S. military spokesman Capt. Jay Ostrich in Baghdad.

Mrs. Salomi, who is seeking a kidney donor while on dialysis, said her husband called her three times a day from Iraq to check on her and kept her spirits high.

“He never missed one day,” she said on Saturday night outside a family business, a supermarket in the heart of San Diego’s Barrio Logan, a heavily Latino neighborhood.

The family also owns a liquor store in San Diego and houses in San Diego and suburban El Cajon, home to a large community of Iraqi expatriates. Their Iraqi-born sons, ages 21 through 27, live in California.

The family said that it never knew the nature of his work in Iraq but that he was dedicated to his job.

“He felt like America has been so good to him; he felt it was his time to help America,” said Vivian Tilley, a niece. “I guess you could say he’s returning the favor.”

The sequence of events in Mr. Salomi’s release was similar to the release of British computer consultant Peter Moore, whom the group freed in December. He was abducted in May 2007 along with his four British bodyguards, three of whom were killed, and the fourth is believed dead.

Mr. Moore’s release coincided with the transfer of the Shi’ite militants’ leader from U.S. to Iraqi custody and his release a few days later. Asaib Ahl al-Haq is one of many groups the Iraqi government was working with as part of the reconciliation process designed to reduce violence.

AP writers Sinan Salaheddin and Katarina Kratovac in Baghdad and Maamoun Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.

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