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US, Iraqi Forces Rescue Australian Hostage

al-Jazeera TV image of Australian hostage Douglas Wood during his captivity

An Australian engineer held hostage for six weeks by insurgents in Iraq has been freed after a rescue mission by Iraqi and U.S. forces.

Douglas Wood's six-week nightmare is over, after he was rescued in Baghdad by Iraqi troops supported by U.S. forces.

The former hostage is undergoing a medical check-up in the Iraqi capital, under the care of Australian diplomats and military staff sent to help secure his release.

Australia's Prime Minister John Howard said Mr. Wood was physically well, but mentally exhausted, having suffered immensely in the past month and a half.

Mr. Howard told parliament that "all Australians would be jubilant" that he was free, and he paid tribute to the Iraqi and U.S. forces that had freed Mr. Wood.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer telephoned Mr. Wood's family to tell them the news.

"Look, to be honest with you I think to start with they were just slightly disbelieving because, you know, their hopes have been raised and dashed - as you can imagine - over and again over the last six weeks. I just want to say this. They have been enormously courageous, great stalwart Australians, the Wood family," he said.

The Australian government has given no details of the military operation that has given the 63-year-old engineer his freedom.

Married to an American and a resident of the United States, Mr. Wood was the first Australian contractor to be kidnapped in Iraq since the insurgency began.

The government in Canberra - a staunch U.S. military ally - stood firm when Mr. Wood's kidnappers threatened to kill him if Australia refused to withdraw its 1,400 troops from the Persian Gulf. No troops were pulled out of the country.