As I mentioned in my earlier post Australian hostage in Iraq Rescued I have been sceptical of any US' claim for the credit of the rescue because of its dodgy records on such heroic operations – eg. the US military fabricated rescue of Jessica Lynch a la Hollywood was a clear case in mind.
But I should have included the Australian authorities as well. Initially the Australian Foreign Minister asserted that the credit ought to go to the special negotiating team headed by Nick Warner for their enormous input. PM John Howard, never one to miss a favourable photo opportunity, was seen nationwide posing with the Woods family shortly after news of the successful rescue.
But the rescuers, the Iraqi military, confessed that they stumbled upon Douglas Wood and his captors through sheer luck.
Meanwhile, Sheik al Hilaly, Australia’s controversial Islamic cleric who had originally postponed his own heart surgery to dash off to Baghdad to rescue Wood, provided an explanation as to why he returned to Baghdad after he had left that city for Cairo to seek interim medical support for himself. He had been severely criticised for returning to Baghdad, outstaying his welcome and hindering the rescue mission. But the truth was the Australian government had requested him to return to Baghdad to continue negotiations with the insurgents.
He told reporters that the Australian government urged him via the Australian Embassy in Cairo to return to Baghdad to continue negotiations, which was the crucial factor that had kept Wood alive – he claimed he possesses proof of the Australian government’s request in the form of a fax.
The Sun-Herald, obtained a copy of the fax sent from Attorney-General Philip Ruddock's office to the Sheik via the Australian ambassador in Cairo, stating that it appreciated the Sheik’s efforts, and requesting he returned to Baghdad to deliver an extraordinary offer to Mr Wood's captors, on their behalf.
The fax added that it did not want the mufti to be seen giving "public undertakings on behalf of the Government", and asked him to be discrete in the message that Australia would be open to suggestions [from the insurgents] that might help Wood’s release.
There's no denying the fax proves the Australian Government sought out the mufti in Egypt, where he was receiving treatment for a heart condition, and confirmed the claim of the Sheik’s camp in Sydney that he played a far greater role in the rescue effort than anyone had previously realised.
For political and security reasons (like not wanting to be perceived as negotiating with insurgents) the Australian Government may ask the mufti not to release the documents at his planned press conference.
To shore up the government’s embarrassing position (negotiating with the insurgents, which it vows it won’t and never will) the Australian Defence Minister, Senator Robert Hill has now cast doubts on the Sheik’s contribution in keeping Wood alive and his subsequent rescue. Instead he attributed the credit to the Australian special negotiating team, Wood’s family and a range of other factors, all of which, implied in his statement, excluded the Sheik’s role.
In Senator Hill’s words, as far as the Australian government is concerned, the Sheik did buggerall. Now, this could just be a cover-up for Australia's politically embarrassing position rather than an insult to the Sheik.
The coincidental stumbling upon Wood and the rescue without any injuries on both sides (disregarding the link's claim that Wood first words on his rescue were 'God Bless America' - now ain't that just sweet) seem to favour the belief that the rescue location was actually the agreed point for the negotiated release of the Australian hostage.
It is also noteworthy that Wood's rescue is the FIRST ever successful rescue operation of a hostage in Iraq. Previous cases involving hostages have either ended up with the voluntary release of the hostages or the murder of them. What does that tell us?
The capture of the captors could well be a red herring to disguise the truth of a negotiated arrangement and also protect the parties involved.
The Sheik, by contrast to the Australian authorities, has graciously given unstinting praise to Nick Warner, head of the Australian negotiating team and PM John Howard. He remarked:
"I did this work for the pleasure of God and in loyalty to our Australian nation, a nation whose goodness has overwhelmed us, whose water we drank and which gave us the freedom that we missed in our country of origin."
"I wanted to prove my community's love for Australia. I am not here to take credit nor to claim to be a hero. I was no more than a servant for a community and for my nation, Australia, out of feeling for my detained brother [Douglas Wood]."
Australian Hostage in Iraq Rescued
Sheik al Hilaly – From Australian Villain to Australian Hero?
The Frightening Truth of Iraqi Kidnappings