- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 15, 2005

BAGHDAD — Iraqi and U.S. forces, acting on a tip, raided a dangerous Sunni neighborhood yesterday and freed an Australian hostage who was hidden beneath a blanket, officials said.

Elsewhere, 38 persons died in insurgent attacks, including 25 killed when a bomber dressed in an Iraqi army uniform blew himself up in a mess hall.

Douglas Wood, a 64-year-old engineer who is a longtime resident of Alamo, Calif., said he was “extremely happy and relieved to be free again,” according to a message read by Nick Warner, Australia’s counterterrorism chief.

Mr. Wood emerged from the compound from which he’d been freed, wearing a tan dishdasha, or traditional Arabic robe, with his head shaved, looking tired but smiling broadly.

“Wood is now resting comfortably and is in a safe location in Baghdad,” said Mr. Warner, who added that he spent much of the day with the former captive.

“He’s as well as you could expect him to be after enduring 47 days in captivity. At the moment, he’s undergoing medical and psychological assessment, and he’s receiving the best of care,” Mr. Warner said.

The raid took place as part of Operation Lightning, a broader counterinsurgency operation that began in Baghdad on May 29, Mr. Warner said. He added there “was specific intelligence and tips that provided a hint at what might be found at that location.”

Mr. Wood was freed by the Iraqi army’s 2nd Battalion, 1st Armored Brigade, with assistance from U.S. forces in Ghazaliyah — one of the most dangerous Sunni Arab neighborhoods of Baghdad, Mr. Warner said. He added that “no ransom was paid” despite a request for a “very large” amount of money.

Mr. Wood was found under a blanket, and the insurgents told troops he was their sick father, said Gen. Naseer al-Abadi, Iraq’s deputy chief of staff. The operation also resulted in the arrest of three insurgents and the release of an Iraqi hostage.

“This is a great day for Iraq. We are proud of the way our soldiers conducted themselves,” Gen. al-Abadi said.

Mr. Wood was abducted in late April by a militant group calling itself the Shura Council of the Mujahedeen of Iraq.

The Australian government refused to bend to the kidnappers’ demands that its 1,400 troops be withdrawn from Iraq. It sent diplomats, police and military personnel to Baghdad to seek his release.

In Khalis, about 45 miles north of Baghdad, the suicide bomber walked into the crowded mess hall wearing an army uniform and waited until soldiers had gathered for lunch before blowing himself up, Iraqi army Col. Saleh al-Obeidi said.

In a separate attack, eight Iraqi policemen were killed when a suicide bomber slammed into two police cars in the capital. Thirteen bystanders also were wounded as two police cars burst into flames at the intersection in a predominantly Shi’ite neighborhood, police said.

Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility for either attack, they bore the hallmarks of Iraq’s radical Sunni extremist groups, which regularly use suicide attackers.

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