Cable 741: 2008 US Embassy Report on Kidnapping of Iraqi Government Official in Baghdad

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This is a 2008 US embassy report on the abduction and release of Tahseen Sheikhly, a high-ranking spokesman for the Iraqi government in Baghdad.
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  P 082015Z APR 08FM AMEMBASSY BAGHDADTO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6748C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BAGHDAD001095SUBJECT: I WAS KIDNAPPED BY A BUNCH OF AMATEURS REF: BAGHDAD 0996Classified By: Deputy Political Counselor Greg S.D'Elia for reasons 1.4 (b,d).¶1. (C) Summary. Tahseen Sheikhly, Government ofIraq (GOI) spokesman for the Baghdad Security Plan,told USMI and MNFI personnel during an April 1debriefing that his kidnappers were a gang ofamateurish Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM) thugs. Releasedafter 115 hours of captivity and reunited with hisfamily, Tahseen described in vivid detail theassault that left his home destroyed, his severalnights of captivity in Sadr City, and the surrealdenouement of his release in front of the IranianEmbassy. He speculated that his release was due tothe intervention of senior Sadrists in Najaf, whowere irked that his freelancing captors had linkedhis kidnapping to events in Basra. End summary. --------------------------------------------- A BABY IN ONE HAND AND AN AK-47 IN THE OTHER ---------------------------------------------   ¶2. (C) Militia gunmen kidnapped Tahseen Sheikhlyfrom his home on March 27, held him in captivityfor four nights and released him late in theevening on March 31 (REF A). On April 1, Tahseenwillingly agreed to debrief USMI Hostage AffairsDirector Peter Ford and MNFI Rear Admiral PatrickDriscoll, along with other USMI and MNFI personnelat the Rasheed Hotel.¶3. (C) Late afternoon on Thursday, March 27 a gangof about 40 gunmen assaulted Tahseen's home in theeastern Baghdad neighborhood of New Baghdad,Tahseen said. Armed with assault rifles androcket-propelled grenades (RPGs), the gunmenemerged from cars along the street in front of hishouse and a side alley. Tahseen, members of hisfamily, and a small security detail fought backagainst the assailants for nearly an hour. One RPGblasted through a window, exploded inside the houseand ignited a fire. Tahseen recalled firing an AK-47 with one hand and holding his six-month oldgrandson in the other while his daughter tried tocontain the flames engulfing the house.¶4. (C) The firefight ended when Tahseen's mothercharged into the front yard, allowing a gunman tograb her and hold a gun to her head. Tahseen thengave himself up to the kidnappers. They threw himin a car and drove off into the city.¶5. (C) Within minutes of Tahseen's departure hisbrother, National Police (NP) Colonel ZiadSheikhly, arrived with a squad of NPs and took therest of the family to safety. The family homeburned to the ground. Shortly thereafter in aseparate attack, Ziad's home was also torched by a  militia gang. --------------------------------------- AMATEUR THUGS WITH AN UNCERTAIN AGENDA --------------------------------------- ¶6. (C) The kidnappers took Tahseen to fourdifferent locations during the first night and twoon the second night; his captors did not blindfoldhim so he recognized the familiar environs of NewBaghdad and Sadr City in which he was held. At onepoint he said he was kept in an Iraqi Police (IP)checkpoint bunker before being moved to a safehouse.¶7. (C) Tahseen's captors also did not cover theirown faces. He recognized several, including oneyouth who was his son's university classmate. Hefeared that their openness meant that he wouldlikely be killed, but later he began to believethat his captors were merely a bunch of amateurs.¶8. (C) Tahseen believed his captors wereaffiliated with Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM), and theywanted to use his kidnapping to further a Sadristpolitical agenda. The leader of the kidnappers,referred to as Abu Leyl, clumsily forced him tovideotape an interview declaring that the recentactions of the GOI were nothing more than an ISCIparty plot to wipe out its Sadrist rivals.However, Tahseen instead convinced him that abetter idea would be for Tahseen to phone in to al-Sharqiya TV and deliver a statement calling for thePrime Minister to withdraw from Basra. In doingso, he believed he could send a more timely andobvious signal that he was being held by JAM. Henow believes his ruse was successful, as he later  heard that some Sadrist leaders in Najaf were angryat the fact that the kidnappers had him make such astatement.¶9. (C) During his captivity Tahseen was permittedto make numerous calls to his brother, Ziad. Hiscaptors did not issue serious ransom demands, andrepeatedly told Tahseen that his release woulddepend upon a decision from Najaf. He engaged inpersonal conversations with some of his captors andat one point was lectured on shari'a law by aShiekh Abu Ahmed. Overall, Tahseen said he wastreated well during his captivity. -------------------------------------------------- JAM WANTED A BETTER SPOKESMAN ) SO THEY KIDNAPPEDONE -------------------------------------------------- ¶10. (C) On Monday, March 31 Tahseen received avisit from two individuals he believes wereinstrumental in securing his release. Yassin al-Hashimi, director of a group called IntifadaSha'abania, arrived with a Mohammed al-Nuri, whowas greeted with great deference by the captorspresent. Tahseen was later told that al-Nuri isMoqtada al-Sadr's brother-in-law, a fact he wasunaware of. These men apologized to Tahseen forwhat had happened and then took him by car to apoint near the Iranian Embassy where his brotherZiad was waiting. Ziad coordinated with USMI andMNFI contacts to bring Tahseen into the IZ and tothe Rasheed Hotel, where 22 of Tahseen and Ziad'sfamily members had been staying after thedestruction of their two homes. Former DeputyPrime Minister Ahmed Chalabi's office providedfunds to foot the bill at the Rasheed.
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