By Peter Graff
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The family of the last U.S. soldier missing in Iraq will hold a funeral for him in Michigan, now that the army has recovered his remains more than five years after he vanished while secretly visiting his Iraqi wife in Baghdad.
Ahmed al-Taie, an Iraqi-born immigrant, joined the U.S. Army to serve as an Arabic interpreter after the invasion of his native land. He married a local woman and went missing in 2006 while visiting her in Baghdad at the height of the sectarian conflict.
"The family want him buried in Michigan. They gave the address and he is going to be buried in Michigan close to his family," al-Taie's uncle, Entifadh Qanbar, told Reuters by telephone from Dubai on Monday.
The body was identified by the U.S. military at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, he said. The family has yet to be given any details of the circumstances of how the body was found or how al-Taie died. He was 41 when he disappeared.
"We almost expected this outcome, but we always had hope, especially the father and the mother. It is a big loss for them. They are quite old and I am quite worried for them," said Qanbar, who lives in the region and is a former spokesman for Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi.
Qanbar said the family had heard nothing about al-Taie's whereabouts since 2008, when they received reports that he was sick and his captors were looking for medicine to treat him.
Al-Taie was the last U.S. service member listed as missing in Iraq, where nearly 4,500 U.S. troops died between the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein and the withdrawal of American forces at the end of last year.
A Sunni Muslim, al-Taie was taken from Baghdad's religiously mixed Karrada neighborhood in October 2006. Four men were arrested days later and confessed to the kidnapping, said Qanbar, who later met the captors at a U.S. prison camp.
The captors said they had turned al-Taie over to the Mehdi Army, the militia of anti-American Shi'ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and did not know what happened to him. From there, the trail went cold.
At the time, the Mehdi Army was embroiled in sectarian fighting against Sunni insurgents, as well as a conflict with U.S. forces and Iraqi government troops.
The Mehdi army laid down its arms after it was defeated by U.S. and Iraqi government forces in 2008 and Sadr's movement is now part of the government, although splinter factions are still believed to be involved in violence.
Qanbar said al-Taie's Iraqi wife was now also in Michigan.
The abduction came at the very peak of the fighting in Iraq, when Shi'ite and Sunni militia were vying for control of the capital, with death squads carrying out sectarian killings on the streets and bombers striking several times a day.
Monthly civilian death tolls were in the thousands. Kidnapping was rife. U.S. troops would not have been allowed off base on their own. But al-Taie was determined to be with his wife, despite the danger.
"It was hell," Qanbar said of the conditions in Baghdad at the time. "I had arguments with him not to leave his base and he kept doing it. He even bought a motorcycle, which was completely crazy."
For now, the family, though deeply saddened, is at least relieved they will have a body to bury.
"I cannot say I am glad it's over," he said. "But I am relieved to at least have some sort of closure."
(Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Alastair Macdonald)