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Iraq: Australian Former Hostage Apologizes For Statements During Captivity

Wood said his release by Iraqi forces proves progress is being made An Australian hostage rescued from insurgents in Iraq on 15 June has returned to his home country. He says that during his captivity he was forced to make statements under duress that he regrets. He also says the fact he was freed by Iraqi government soldiers shows that efforts to train and field Iraqi security forces are working.

Prague, 20 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Former hostage Douglas Wood is back in his home country amid family and friends after 47 days in captivity in Iraq.

The 63-year-old engineer, who was held hostage by insurgents, said at a press conference today that it was “bloody good” to be home.

He paid tribute to his family and to Australian officials for their efforts to secure his release. "I love my family, and I knew that they'd be doing as much as they could to get me out any way," he said. "I'm overwhelmed, having come out, understanding the support first of the family, and second of the [Australian] federal people here, you all [in the media]. It's very humbling."

He also said that he believes in Iraq’s political transition, which is backed by the U.S. and Australian governments.

And he said he sees the fact he was freed by Iraqi security forces as evidence the effort is succeeding.

"Once again, I am very committed to the policies of the two governments [Australian and U.S.] today," Wood said. "I would like to accelerate the process. I think the quicker we hire, recruit, train and get the police and the Iraqi Army up to speed, then when they are fully engaged and ready, they can start going around door to door and developing a confidence with the Iraqi population, so the population will not be scared to turn in the odd things that are happening."

That statement contrasts with Wood’s words in a videotape sent by his captors to Arabic-language satellite stations shortly after he was kidnapped.

The videotape shows Wood calling on the U.S., Australian, and British governments to withdraw their troops from Iraq as one way to help save his life: "Family, friends, please help take the American troops, the Australian troops, the British troops out of here and let Iraq look after itself. They [Iraqis] are strong, they will be -- look after themselves against their neighbors. Please help me. I don't want to die.”

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said today that his government did not seek an apology from Wood and was pleased to see him reunited with his family.

Referring to Wood’s statement of support for U.S. and Australian policy after his release, Howard told Australian radio, “I appreciate what he said...the government's policy on Iraq is well-known and it won't change because it's right, and naturally when it's endorsed that's a good thing."

Iraqi forces are reported to have found Wood on 15 June when they raided a house in Baghdad looking for a cache of weapons. An Iraqi general told the press later that Wood’s captors had unsuccessfully tried to keep Wood hidden under a blanket during the raid, claiming he was a sick relative.

The identity of the group that held Wood is still not known. Wood, who is a U.S. resident and is married to an American, had been working in Iraq as a contract engineer for a year before he was abducted more than six weeks ago.

Wood told reporters today that he had been handcuffed and blindfolded during much of his ordeal. But he said he would tell the whole story only in an hour-long exclusive interview to be aired on an Australian television station. The date of the planned broadcast is not yet known.

Asked by one reporter at today’s press conference if he would consider returning to Iraq, Wood said he did not rule it out. Wood said his brothers were trying to persuade him not to return and that he was listening “very seriously” to them.

But he also said: “I may [return], yes. I am considering it, because there are opportunities.”

(news agencies)

For the latest news and analysis on Iraq, see RFE/RL's webpage on "The New Iraq".