- The Washington Times - Monday, March 16, 2009

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA (AP) - Two Iraqi soldiers who helped rescue a kidnapped Australian in 2005 have been granted asylum in Australia because their lives were at risk at home, officials said Monday.

Douglas Wood was working as a privately contracted engineer in Baghdad when he was seized and held for 47 days before U.S. and Iraqi troops freed him in a gunbattle with his captors.

Last month, Wood wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, claiming that seven of the 10 Iraqi soldiers who helped free him have been murdered by terrorists as retribution for the rescue and for court testimony against some of the kidnappers.

A refugee lawyer and the government said Monday that two of the soldiers and two siblings of one of them have been resettled in Australia.

“There were genuine fears for the safety of these two soldiers because of the role they played in Mr. Wood’s rescue,” Immigration Minister Chris Evans said in a statement. The soldiers’ names have not been released for fear they could also face persecution in Australia.

The third survivor, Brig. Gen. Mohammed al-Samarae, resettled in the United States after being refused a visa to come to Australia six times, Wood said in his letter.

David Mann, a lawyer for the two men, said they had been in danger because they testified against Wood’s kidnappers.

“The evidence powerfully indicates that there had been a calculated and concerted campaign of terror against those who rescued Douglas Wood by al-Qaida extremists,” Mann told The Associated Press.

Evans said government officials met with Wood on Feb. 24 and decided to fast-track the men’s applications.

Wood did not return a telephone call Monday.

Last year, Australia resettled about 400 Iraqis and their relatives who were at risk for helping Australian troops and diplomats in their troubled homeland.

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