Douglas Wood


Douglas Wood

Douglas Wood (born c. 1942), Australian construction engineer, was held hostage in Iraq between May and June 2005.

Wood was born in Melbourne, but before starting his own company he had worked for the United States Bechtel Corporation, a construction firm, and had lived in California with his American wife for 25 years.

In May 2005 Wood was working in the reconstruction of Iraq on two contracts: the first, building a military site at Fallujah and the second, renovating buildings inside the secure "Green Zone". A DVD announcing his capture by a group claiming ties to the Iraqi insurgency was released on 2 May.

The DVD featured footage of Wood pleading for his life and appealing to President George W. Bush and Australian Prime Minister John Howard to withdraw their forces from Iraq.

It was believed that Wood was taken hostage 48 hours before his captors released the DVD. On 4 May Foreign Minister Alexander Downer appeared on the Arabic television news channel Al Jazeera directly appealing to the captors to release Woods.

The kidnappers had set a deadline of 5am Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST) on May 10, for the Howard government to pull Australian troops out of Iraq, at which point they had threatened to kill Wood, but the deadline came and went with no apparent action from the kidnappers.

Sheik Taj El-Din Hilaly, an Australian Islamic leader, carried a payment from the Wood family which he claimed was a "charitable donation to the people of Iraq". Others claimed it would be going indirectly to the kidnappers because Wood's family asked the kidnappers how they wished to distribute the money and therefore amounted to a ransom payment.

Hilaly arrived in Baghdad in early May and attempted to negotiate the release of Wood. In a video Hilaly had offered to exchange himself as a hostage for Wood. Due to heavy fighting that began later in May, Hilaly was unable to make contact with the captors. Wood's condition and whereabouts were uncertain for several days. But on June 5, Hilaly announced that he had been able to see Wood, that he had been given vital medication, and that he was still working toward obtaining Wood's release. The veracity of these claims was later challenged. Wood maintains he never met Hilaly and was unaware of his activities.

While in captivity was kept on bread and water, was denied medical care, was repeatedly beaten, and saw other hostages shot dead in front of him. Two Iraqis who worked for his company and were captured with him were murdered by the hostage-takers and their bodies left on a rubbish tip.


Release and after

On June 15, Wood was freed following a raid on a house in Baghdad by Iraqi and US troops. Taj El-Din Hilaly's spokesperson, however, said that Wood was voluntarily released due to a co-operative effort that included Hilaly's negotiating. This claim appears to be incorrect. The spokesperson also said that Hilaly's trip to Iraq in May had prevented Wood's captors executing him. This claim may be true, but has not been verified.

After his release Wood signed a television deal with an Australian television network, Network Ten, giving them an exclusive interview for a reported AUD$400,000. The interview was aired on June 26. During the interview, Wood explained he was in Iraq on behalf of his contracting business in the construction industry. Wood is also said to have signed a book deal.

Wood met John Howard, the Prime Minister of Australia, in July 2005 and apologised for his statements, made while under duress, calling on Australia and the United States to withdraw their occupation forces from Iraq. He said that his release by Iraqi forces proved that the Coalition efforts to build up the Iraqi security forces were working.

Since his release Wood has been the subject of a campaign of denigration by some people who opposed the war in Iraq. He has been accused of corruption, war profiteering and of trading on his fame as a captive. Among his critics have been Andrew Jaspan, editor of The Age, a Melbourne newspaper, who described Wood as "boorish" for calling his captors "arseholes," and said that Wood had been "well treated" while in captivity.

In August it was reported that Wood was in declining health and was almost blind as a result of not being able to take his glaucoma medication while in captivity. It was also reported that Wood and his wife would be returning to live in Australia.

Upon his return to Australia, Wood told the media of his love of the Geelong Football Club and one of the first things he asked when released was how their season went. He consequently became a celebrity patron of the club and was invited into the rooms to sing the song after a big win at the club's home ground in Geelong.

Credit: Wikipedia

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