Remains Of Last Missing US Soldier Return From Iraq

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The Army has identified the remains of the last missing American service member in Iraq. A Shiite extremist group handed over a wooden casket containing the remains of Staff Sgt. Ahmed al-Taie, who was abducted by gunmen in Baghdad in 2006. A Shiite lawmaker in Iraq says the gesture is part of a prisoner exchange agreement between the Iraqi government and an Iranian-backed insurgent group. Audie Cornish speaks with Wall Street Journal reporter, Michael Phillips.


In Iraq, the U.S. has recovered the body of the last U.S. soldier listed as missing. Army Staff Sergeant Ahmed al-Taie was Iraqi born and U.S. raised. He was in his late 30s when he joined the Army through a program for native Arab speakers in the early years of the war. Sergeant al-Taie was serving as a linguist in the U.S. reconstruction mission in Iraq when he was abducted in 2006.

We're joined in the studio by Michael Phillips. He's a staff writer for the Wall Street Journal and he's chronicled this story of Sergeant al-Taie and his family. Welcome to the program.


CORNISH: So begin by telling us, who was Sergeant al-Taie, his background and his family?

PHILLIPS: The sergeant was, as you said, born in Baghdad. His father was a mechanical engineer and his mother taught elementary school, an educated Baghdad family. They had traveled pretty widely, and in the mid-'80s, Ahmed moved to the United States after high school. He went to live with a brother. His parents followed about 10 years later and moved to Michigan and Ahmed was an airplane mechanic. He lost his job after the September 11th attacks. It, of course, hurt the industry and made it hard, I think, for a Muslim-American to work in the industry.

And, at his mother's suggestion, really, he joined the military and decided to use his language skills and his cultural knowledge to help the United States work in Iraq.

CORNISH: Michael, in 2006, Sergeant al-Taie was married to a woman in Baghdad and I gather from your reporting that he actually used to leave the green zone to visit her and that this figured in to his abduction.

PHILLIPS: Yeah. Ahmed was, I think, a bit of a rule-breaker. He would, on a fairly regular basis, change into civilian gear. His job was in the green zone and, of course, he was a uniformed serviceman, but he would change into civilian gear and go and visit his wife, who lived in the Kirata area, which is a crowded neighborhood of Baghdad.

So on October 23rd of 2006, he drove to his wife's apartment and was abducted outside. The militants were waiting for him.

CORNISH: At one point, there was a video clip that surfaced about Sergeant al-Taie while he was in captivity, but has it ever really been clear who was behind his kidnapping?

PHILLIPS: The thinking in the military and with the al-Taie family, of course, who have connections in Baghdad is that one of the neighbors, who was a former intelligence officer in the Saddam regime, but is now allied with Muqtada al-Sadr's group, he was the ring leader of the actual kidnapping. But he quickly passed Ahmed off to other groups or a group. It's a little mysterious.

In the end, he was with a Shiite extremist group called Asaib Ahl al-Haq.

CORNISH: Michael, what surprised you about this story as you followed it along?

PHILLIPS: You know, I just - you know, I'm a father. I have two little kids and it's maybe not surprising, but it's stunning the suffering that parents go through when they just don't know what's happened to their child. It was so hard for them. Noal(ph), Ahmed's mother, would cook his favorite meals every day. His father, who's a very dapper, meticulous man, would keep his clothes folded and ironed and ready for his return.

They - Noal, again, his mother - she would write letters, handwrite letters to the insurgents begging them to release Ahmed, but she would never send them because she was too worried that if she said the wrong thing, maybe they'd kill Ahmed. Maybe they just wouldn't say that they had him. It was really - it was stunning as a parent, as well as just as a person, to see how long and, you know, how much they'd endured and how long they'd endured it.


CORNISH: Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Phillips, talking about Army Staff Sergeant Ahmed al-Taie, the last U.S. soldier missing in Iraq. His remains were recently handed over by a militant group as part of a deal with the Iraqi government.



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