Iraq hostage is sick, Australia says in TV appeal
Australia has appealed on Al Jazeera television for the release of an Australian man held hostage by Iraqi militants, saying he has a serious heart problem and wants to be reunited with his wife and child.
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer made the plea on the Arabic television channel as an Australian emergency response team landed in Baghdad in a bid to free Douglas Wood, 63, an engineer who lives in California and is married to an American.
"Mr. Wood is not a well man. He has had significant heart problems and he has a wife and he had three brothers and a child ... he wants to be able to see his family again," Downer said, according to a transcript of the interview.
"We would appeal to the people who have taken him hostage to release him and not to involve a man who is just providing assistance to the Iraqi people, not to involve him in politics, just to release him."
A two-minute video delivered to news agencies in Baghdad on Sunday showed Wood held at gunpoint. Downer said the video was credible and that Wood may have been kidnapped from his Baghdad apartment up to two days before it was released by his captors.
Wood called in the video for U.S., Australian and British authorities to withdraw their troops from the country.
Downer told Australian television Tuesday that 400 foreigners had been kidnapped in Iraq since September 2003, with 30 of those killed and 15 still held hostage.
"There are any range of different reasons why people have been either released or they've been executed. In this case, the demand made through the (video) is, of course, a demand the terrorists must know is not going to be met," Downer said.
Australia, a staunch U.S. ally, was among the first to join the U.S.-led war on Iraq two years ago.
A further 450 Australian troops are due to arrive in southern Iraq over the coming weeks to provide security and train the Iraqi army. They will take the total number of Australian troops in and around Iraq to about 1,400.
Opinions polls showed in May last year that nearly two-thirds of Australians believed the war on Iraq was unjustified. Half of Australia believed it was not worth sending troops to Iraq, while 40 percent supported the conservative government's decision.
Howard won a fourth straight term at an election last October by crushing center-left opposition Labor, whose leader had vowed to bring Australian troops home by Christmas.
Australia angered Spain and the Philippines last year when it accused them of encouraging terrorists by pulling their troops out of Iraq. The Philippines brought their troops home early to save the life of a Filipino hostage.