U.S. troops say Iraqi unit was catalyst behind successful hostage rescue
June 18, 2005
BAGHDAD — Staff Sgt. Jeremecih Perry couldn’t believe his eyes.
He was in Iraq’s capital city Wednesday morning, one of seven American soldiers working with 400 Iraqi soldiers on a routine mission. He had heard the news on the communications radio, but he still couldn’t believe it.
“The next thing I saw — this tall, white dude walking out in a white robe” into a sea of Iraqi soldiers, the 26-year-old from Bossier City, La., said Thursday.
What came next was a lot of hugging and thanking and making sure that Douglas Wood, the Australian man who had been held hostage for nearly two months, was all right, say U.S. soldiers who witnessed the scene.
Wood, a 63-year-old contractor who lives in California, was rescued from his kidnappers by Iraqi army forces. The successful rescue of the two hostages — an Iraqi teen who had been held for 35 days also was discovered — has been heralded by both militaries as a sign that Iraq’s military forces are becoming more capable of securing their country.
On Wednesday, no one was shot. On Wednesday, no Americans took part in the rescue. On Wednesday, an Iraqi commander named Col. Mohammed ran the show, according to American soldiers who were there.
It was only when it came to providing Wood health care that the Americans took the lead, they said.
Wednesday’s discovery came while an entire battalion of Iraqi soldiers was searching about 400 homes in the Al-Adel neighborhood of western Baghdad, said Capt. Randy Green, 41, also of Bossier City.
Green, Perry and 14 other U.S. soldiers are part of the advisory team that works with the 2nd Battalion of the Iraqi army’s 1st Brigade. Green and his soldiers, from the 1st Battalion of the 156th Armor, are Louisiana National Guardsmen.
The Iraqi battalion has been in operation for nearly two years.
“They are a trained, functioning unit,” said Green. “They gather their own intelligence and go on their own missions.”
This week was no exception. Mohammed, the battalion’s commander, had intelligence that warranted a massive search of 400 houses. But the intelligence included no mention of hostages, Green said.
Mohammed wanted his troops to cordon off the entire area — 1½ kilometers by 500 meters — and search as quickly as possible. The Iraqi commander thought it would take three hours.
Green agreed to the mission, and he took six U.S. soldiers with him to watch Mohammed’s soldiers work. The Iraqis had been searching for a little more than an hour when they found a house with the doors locked, but people inside, Green said.
The Iraqi commander approved a forced entry, and the Iraqi soldiers barged through two sets of doors into gunfire, Green said.
“The Iraqi army didn’t return fire,” Green said. “They could have killed them on the spot. Their training told them not to shoot.”
The soldiers wrestled the shooters to the ground, Green said.
They found a man not speaking Arabic. He had been lying on a bed underneath a cover. Soon Green heard on the radio that the Iraqis had figured out the man was Douglas Wood.
Green and his soldiers were shocked.
“I see this 6-foot-something, white guy come out of this house,” said Cpl. Ryan Simon, 26, of Baton Rouge, La.. “And I’m in total disbelief. He just wanted to thank them and reach out and touch them. It was an awesome thing to see.”
Some of the Iraqi soldiers didn’t quite realize the importance of their discovery, said Simon and Perry, who work with the soldiers every day at a shared U.S.-Iraqi military base in Baghdad.
Some soldiers know some English, but for the most part, the two groups rely on interpreters. On Wednesday, Simon didn’t need them.
“You’re going to make CNN,” he told a group of Iraqi soldiers.
“ ‘CNN?’ ” Simon said they acknowledged. “ ‘CNN!’ ”