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Last Updated: Monday, 20 June, 2005, 04:32 GMT 05:32 UK
Iraq hostage returns to Australia
Douglas Wood and his wife
Mr Wood arrived at Melbourne airport accompanied by his wife
An Australian man freed last week after being held hostage by insurgents in Iraq has returned to his home country.

Douglas Wood said he wanted to apologise to US President George W Bush and Australian leader John Howard for remarks he had made during captivity.

A video made by his captors and given to Arabic TV had shown him pleading for foreign troops to withdraw from Iraq.

But Mr Wood said he was living proof that the US and Australian governments' policy on Iraq was the right one.

He said he was unaware who had taken him hostage.

"I didn't know ... obviously, my head is intact, so it wasn't al-Qaeda," he joked.

Militant groups have taken scores of foreigners hostage in Iraq, sometimes beheading them if their demands have not been met.

'Correct policy'

Mr Wood, a civil engineer who has been living in the US, arrived at Melbourne airport accompanied by his American wife and an Australian foreign ministry official.

He told reporters he was sorry for having criticised Washington and Canberra's presence in Iraq while he was being held prisoner.

"The current policies of the American and Australian governments are the right ones," he said.

Prime Minister Howard, who has sent Australian soldiers to support US forces in Iraq, said he welcomed Mr Wood's apology but had not solicited it.

"I appreciate what he said," Mr Howard told Australian radio.

"But I was not seeking any apology from Mr Wood. After what that poor man has been through, that would be the last thing I would want."

Unclear circumstances

Having spent 47 days in captivity, Mr Wood was reportedly released last week by Iraqi forces searching for weapons in a Sunni Muslim neighbourhood in Baghdad.

"I actually believe that I am proof positive that the current policy of training the Iraqi army ... works because it was Iraqis that got me out," he said.

The exact circumstances of Mr Wood's release remain unclear, with Australia's top Muslim cleric, Sheikh Taj el-Din al-Hilali, saying he had brokered his release.

Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said last week that Sheikh Hilali played a "very prominent" role, but admitted all the details surrounding the release were "difficult to piece together".

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