Iraqi Militants Kidnap Australian

Iraqi militants have kidnapped an Australian man living in California who pleaded for U.S.-led coalition forces to leave Iraq in order to save his life, according to a video tape obtained Sunday.

The tape, obtained by Associated Press Television News, showed a man identifying himself as Douglas Wood (search), 63, of Australia seated between two masked militants pointing automatic weapons at him.

A sign shown on the tape carried the name of the militant group responsible for the kidnapping, Shura Council of the Mujahedeen (search) of Iraq. The group has previously claimed responsibility for attacks on U.S. soldiers and Iraqi forces, plus the kidnapping of Turkish national Aytullah Gezmen, who was freed in September.

Wood, appearing disheveled and shaken, said he is a U.S. resident living in Alamo, California, with his American wife. He said he came to Iraq almost a year ago to work on reconstruction projects with the American military.

The captive appealed to U.S. President George W. Bush, Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Californian Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to order coalition forces out of Iraq and let Iraqis look after themselves, saying he did not want to die.

"My captors are fiercely patriotic they believe in a strong united Iraq looking after its own destiny," Wood said on the tape, which could not be immediately verified. "They (the Iraqis) are strong, they will be (able to) ... look after themselves against their neighbors. Please help me. I don't want to die."

A spokesman for Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs said Australian authorities are looking into the report, but were as yet unable to confirm the kidnapping.

Wood is the second Australian to be kidnapped in Iraq following October's capture of journalist John Martinkus, who was seized in Baghdad and held for about 24 hours before being freed.

The release of the video came as Australian Defense Minister Robert Hill visited troops in Iraq and the country's Prime Minister-designate Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

Australia sent 2,000 elite troops to take part in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and still has 920 troops in and around the country.

The first wave of an additional 450 troops arrived in the southern province of al-Muthanna this week, raising the total number of Australian troops involved in the Iraq mission to 1,370.

So far only one Australian serviceman has been killed on duty in Iraq, Flight Lt. Paul Pardoel, who was serving with the British Royal Air Force.

More than 200 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq since Saddam Hussein's regime collapsed in April 2003. Some kidnappers have sought ransom, while others pursued political motives such as the withdrawal of foreign companies and troops from Iraq. The kidnappers have killed more than 30 hostages.