US hostage freed in Iraq after 10 months

BAGHDAD (AP) — The US military, acting on a tip, raided a farmhouse Wednesday and rescued an American held hostage for 10 months. In southern Iraq, a roadside bomb killed four American security guards, fuelling fears the bloody insurgency was taking deeper root outside Sunni-dominated territory.

Roy Hallums, 57, was “in good condition and is receiving medical care,” a military statement said after US forces freed him from an isolated farmhouse 24 kilometres south of Baghdad. The statement said the military had received a tip from an Iraqi prisoner.

In a telephone interview with CNN, the freed hostage’s ex-wife, Susan Hallums, said she had talked to her former husband.

“That’s the best phone call I’ve ever gotten,” she said in Los Angeles. “It was just very, very early this morning and he called and said that he was free, and I said that’s just — our prayers were answered.” Hallums, formerly of Newport Beach, California, was kidnapped at gunpoint from his office in the Mansour district of Baghdad on November 1, 2004. He was freed along with an Iraqi civilian who was not identified.

“I want to thank all of those who were involved in my rescue — to those who continuously tracked my captors and location, and to those who physically brought me freedom today,” Hallums said in the military statement.

“To all of you, I will be forever grateful. Both of us are in good health and look forward to returning to our respective families. Thank you to all who kept me and my family in their thoughts and prayers.”

Susan Hallums said she and her husband of 30 years divorced a few years ago but remain good friends. They have two daughters.

Roy Hallums was working for the Saudi Arabian Trading and Construction Co., supplying food to the Iraqi army, when he was abducted along with two other foreigners after a gunbattle in Baghdad. An Iraqi guard and one attacker were killed. A Filipino, a Nepalese and three Iraqis also were seized but later freed.

Hallums’ family sent fliers to Iraq that, in English and Arabic, offered a $40,000 reward for information leading to his safe release.

In a January video issued by his kidnappers, Hallums had a shaggy beard and a gunpointed at his head. In the video, Hallums asked Arab leaders, singling out Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi, to save his life. Qadhafi responded by calling on insurgents to release the American.

More than 200 foreigners have been abducted in Iraq since the war began in March 2003; more than 30 have been killed.

Wednesday’s roadside bombing in southern Iraq was particularly noteworthy because attacks against Americans in the region of Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city, are rare. The US has only a minimal presence in the area.

Also, Shiites, who are the dominant population in the south, have found themselves the political winners as new government structures take shape after the US-led invasion.

The powerful bomb flipped the guards’ white SUV onto its roof in a ravine alongside a highway near Basra, a major oil centre that is under the control of Britain’s 8,500-strong contingent in the south.

“All four individuals worked for a private security firm supporting the regional US embassy office in Basra,” US embassy spokesman Peter Mitchell said in a statement.

AP Television News videotape showed the overturned white SUV and six British Army Land Rovers, with Iraqi police cars and two civilian ambulances parked nearby. British soldiers loaded a body from the SUV into a military ambulance.

Despite a peaceful postwar history in the south, violence has spiked in the past two months.

On July 16, a roadside bomb in Amarah killed three British soldiers and wounded two. Two weeks later, two Britons, who worked for the security firm Control Risks Group, were killed when a roadside bomb exploded alongside a British diplomatic convoy in Basra.

Two British soldiers died Monday in a roadside bombing west of Basra, bringing to 95 the number of fatalities British forces have suffered since the war began.

A US soldier was killed Wednesday in a noncombat accident in central Iraq, the military said. It did not identify the soldier.

Also Wednesday, an official of the court that will try Saddam Hussein discounted a claim by Iraq’s president that the former leader had admitted wrongdoing in a confession to mass killings and other crimes during his rule.

In an Iraqi television interview aired Tuesday, President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, said Saddam had confessed he ordered the killing of more than 180,000 Kurds in the north of the country in the late 1980s.

“Saddam Hussein is a war criminal and he deserves to be executed 20 times a day for his crimes against humanity,” said Talabani, who heads the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan Party. He claimed Saddam had tried to assassinate him at least 20 times.

The official of the Iraq Special Tribunal, which will put Saddam on trial October 19, said Saddam made a statement last month, but did not confess to criminal activity. The former dictator “boastfully” acknowledged the so-called Anfal campaign against the Kurds in 1987-88; the campaign led to the ethnic cleansing of many Kurdish communities in the north.

“He said it was legal and justified,” according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

Saddam has charged that Iraqi Kurds — part of a disaffected ethnic minority that is spread across northern Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria — were aiding the enemy in Iraq’s eight-year war against Iran. Millions died in the conflict, which Saddam started.

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