Page last updated at 10:30 GMT, Thursday, 17 April 2008 11:30 UK

'Dad went back to Iraq to help'

By Steven McKenzie
BBC News

Following the fall of Saddam Hussein, father-of-four Ammar al-Saffar returned to his homeland of Iraq after 16 years. He was kidnapped in 2006 and his London-based family have heard nothing since. His son Ali tells of their anxious wait for news.

Ammar Al-Saffar
Mr Saffar had worked in London from 1987 to 2003

Ammar al-Saffar finished a mobile phone call to one of his daughters on the roof of his mother's home in Baghdad - the only place to get a reception in the house.

Stepping down the stairs and back inside the home was one of his last actions as a free man.

According to police several men, some in uniform, arrived in police cars and pick-up trucks to seize deputy health minister Mr Saffar.

His kidnap on 19 November 2006 came less than a week after dozens of people were abducted from Iraq's education ministry.

Just like many other professional Iraqis living and working in the UK, Mr Saffar saw the fall of Saddam as an opportunity to return to his homeland years after fleeing the dictator's regime.

His 23-year-old son Ali al-Saffar, who lives in London, said: "He took the first opportunity to go back.

"When my dad went back in the summer of 2003 there were no ministries and at first he was an adviser to the minister of health, but because of his experience he was then made a deputy."

Even if there is the most minute chance they didn't kill him you have to be realistic
Ali al-Saffar

In 2004 there was an attempt on his life and then the kidnapping two years later.

"We got the news from a friend in London who had seen reports of dad's kidnap on the TV," Ali al-Saffar said.

"In the first days certain people were very optimistic he would be released.

"The Americans said nobody who had been taken from their home had ever been released but the message from the Iraqis was very positive.

"We had a number of phone calls from negotiators on the Iraqi side naming days when he would be released - Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and so on."

However, that day has not come so far.

Collapse of trial

There looked to be a breakthrough for the family when another deputy health minister, Hakim al-Zamili and the former head of security at the health ministry, Brig Gen Hamid al-Shammari, were arrested in February 2007.

It came at the height of fighting between Iraq's majority Shia and Sunni Muslims.

The men were alleged to have formed a private Shia militia that would snatch Sunni patients from hospitals and kill visiting family members.

Charges, which both denied, were dropped and the trial collapsed in March this year for lack of evidence.

Mr Saffar's family, who fear he is dead, had hoped the trial would bring some closure.

'No guidance'

"My dad went back to Iraq to help and he was working on exposing corruption in the ministry of health," Ali al-Saffar said.

"The collapse of the trial meant what he worked so hard for was for nothing."

Mr Saffar's wife, Ali and his 19-year-old brother and sisters aged 27 and 29 are now in a state of limbo, not knowing who to turn to for support in uncovering what has happened to him.

"When someone you know is killed or dies you usually have a sense of closure but kidnapping is a different breed altogether," Ali al-Saffar said.

"Even if there is the most minute chance they [the kidnappers] didn't kill him you have to be realistic. It has been a year and a half now.

"It is difficult - we have had no guidance from the Iraqi government or from anyone here."


SEE ALSO
Country profile: Iraq
11 Apr 08 |  Country profiles
Sunni anger at Iraq trial failure
05 Mar 08 |  Middle East
Top Iraqi official held in raid
08 Feb 07 |  Middle East
Kidnappers seize Iraqi minister
19 Nov 06 |  Middle East

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