Wed, Feb 25, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Australian wants asylum for troops who rescued him

AFP , SYDNEY

A former Australian hostage who had been saved by Iraqi soldiers yesterday called for his rescuers to be granted asylum, saying their lives were in danger.

Contractor Douglas Wood, who was held for six weeks in 2005 by militants demanding the withdrawal of Australian troops from Iraq, said he owed his life to the soldiers who came to his rescue.

In an open letter to Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Wood said seven of the soldiers and members of their families had been killed in “payback” attacks attributed to al-Qaeda.

“One of the remaining two was injured,” Wood wrote. “The deaths and attacks were not part of their jobs in the army but at their homes, taking their children to school, in transit.”

The head of the operation, Colonel Mohammed al-Samarae, successfully sought asylum in the US after death threats and several attempts on his life, Wood said.

He urged Rudd to grant asylum to the two surviving men, who he described as “living in fear” in hiding in the Middle East.

“If he hadn’t gone in that day, Colonel Mohammed, I’d be dead. The whole operation was going to close the next day, they were going to cut my throat off and show me to the world,” Wood wrote. “Their lives are at threat for the only reason that they saved an Australian citizen.”

“These two boys, their lives are at risk and I think that it’s shameful that we haven’t reached out and grabbed them,” he said.

Australian Immigration Minister Chris Evans told parliament he did not believe the men had applied for asylum, but said he would arrange a meeting with Wood to “get to the bottom of the matter.”

“At the moment I have no information these people have applied for protection,” he told a Senate committee. “I am keen to see what I can do.”

Rudd withdrew Australia’s 550 combat troops from southern Iraq last year, fulfilling a promise he made ahead of his election in November 2007.

The government said at the time that it would offer permanent residence in Australia to up to 600 Iraqi employees working with Australian troops if they wanted to leave the country.

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