Australia's foreign minister on Wednesday appealed for the release of an Australian engineer kidnapped in Iraq, saying he has a serious heart condition.

Alexander Downer (search) made the plea in an interview with the Arabic television network Al-Jazeera after an Australian task force arrived in Baghdad to work for the release of Douglas Wood (search), a 63-year-old resident of California who has an American wife.

"Mr. Wood is not a well man," Downer said in the interview. "He has significant heart problems and he has a wife and he has three brothers and a child and he's 63. He wants to be able to see his family again."

Downer said the self-employed engineer had been working to improve the lives of Iraqis for more than a year.

"We would appeal to the people who have taken him hostage to release him and not to involve a man who is just providing assistance to the Iraqi people, not to involve him in politics," Downer told the network.

Prime Minister John Howard has ruled out paying any ransom or meeting the insurgents' demands to withdraw Australian troops from Iraq. But he said the government would do all it can to secure Wood's freedom.

Also on Wednesday, the Australian Broadcasting Corp (search). aired an interview Wood had given to a freelance journalist in March last year. In that interview, Wood told Lebanon-based freelance reporter Andrew Butters in Baghdad that he did not fear for his life and did not like to travel with large security contingents.

"My own particular analysis is one is better off being low-key," Wood said in the interview broadcast by Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio Wednesday.

"If I don't look like I'm a bloody thug or am protected by a super convoy, I'm less likely to be apprehended," Wood added.

A taskforce of Australian defense personnel, police and diplomats arrived in Baghdad late Tuesday to try to secure Wood's release with the help of the United Nations.

Downer said it is believed that Wood was kidnapped from his Baghdad apartment or on his way to work perhaps 48 hours before video footage showing him pleading for his life was released over the weekend.