Douglas Wood appeared rather gungho in his first press conference in Australia, which could be due to a burst of walled up adrenalin after all those weeks in captivity. But on the other hand, when asked about Sheik al Hilaly he answered in a rather curt, dismissive and rather ungracious manner “Never heard of him”.
That would be strange and extremely unlikely, considering he would surely have been briefed by his brothers who had sought the Sheik’s help in the first place. Additionally, he had his medication delivered to him while in captivity via the Sheik. Obviously he doesn’t believe that the Sheik’s negotiations with the insurgents at the request of first his family, then the Australian government, had probably kept him alive through those weeks.
No, indeed he didn’t, for he attributed his rescue to the training the Americans and Australian gave to the Iraqi military. He laid it on rather thick for Bush and the Americans – remember the news report of his ‘God Bless America’ on being rescued, rather than ‘Goodonya Iraqis, you bloody beaut’. Afterall, weren’t the troops who rushed in to secure his ‘rescue’ Iraqis?
Now we also have Wood's assertion that his release was proof-positive that coalition troops were improving the country. Hmmm? I have no doubt that many, especially Americans and indeed GOP senators, who would totally disagree with him. But, the press conference was his moment, and his alone.
There is a growing belief, derived from the various news reports, that the Sheik undoubtedly played a very significant role, even to the extent of securing Wood’s release. However, the Iraqi military, probably on American instructions and with Australian advice and intelligence, decided to pre-empt the negotiated release by launching a raid.
They must have used the Sheik’s reports, through eavesdropping on or trailing him when he was conducting contacts in Iraq, or through his voluntary reports to Nick Warner, head of the Australian negotiating team. It is noteworthy that when Wood was rescued none of the captors were armed, which would be highly unlikely had there been no preparation for the release.
The growing belief includes the suspicion that the Australian government, but more particularly the US government wants to maintain its strict policy of no negotiation with any insurgents, hence the pre-emptive raid rather than wait for the negotiated release. Otherwise, how can one explain the coincidental ‘stumbling’ upon Wood when the release was just 2 hours away (according to the Sheik), and the captors completely unarmed.
While there is also the embarrassment of the Sheik nearly becoming the hero of Wood’s release, this is insignificant compared to the publicity of a seemingly effective Iraqi military (fortified by Wood glowering endorsement), all paving the way for a US dignified exit from Iraq, without being seen to be abandoning its Iraqi allies.
What does this mean for the future?
The Sheik is now virtually useless now as a conduit or contact for future hostage problems in Iraq. In fact, he may even be killed if he steps foot there again for he would be considered as reneging on the negotiations. The probable conclusion is that he has been 'used'.
But the probable loss for Australia is that a very useful Australian contact for the darker side of the Arab world may have been sacrificed for good. Let’s hope Australia may never ever need the help of the Sheik again.