Australian Hostage Freed

Iraqi and U.S. forces, acting on a tip, raided a dangerous Sunni neighborhood Wednesday and freed an Australian hostage who was hidden beneath a blanket, officials said. Elsewhere, more than 50 people died in insurgent attacks, including 26 killed when a bomber dressed in Iraqi army uniform blew himself up in a mess hall.

Douglas Wood (search), a 64-year-old engineer who is a longtime resident of Alamo, Calif., said he was "extremely happy and relieved to be free again," according to a message read by Australia's counterterrorism chief Nick Warner.

Wood emerged from the compound from which he'd been freed wearing a tan dishdasha, or traditional Arabic robe, with his head shaved, looking tired but smiling broadly.

"Wood is now resting comfortably and is in a safe location in Baghdad," said Warner, who added that he spent much of the day with the former captive.

"He's as well as you could expect him to be after enduring 47 days in captivity. At the moment, he's undergoing medical and psychological assessment and he's receiving the best of care," Warner said.

The raid took place as part of Operation Lightning — a broader counterinsurgency operation that began in Baghdad on May 29, Warner said. He added there "was specific intelligence and tips that provided a hint at what might be found at that location."

Wood was freed by the Iraqi army's 2nd battalion, 1st Armored Brigade, with assistance by U.S. forces in Ghazaliya — one of the most dangerous Sunni Arab neighborhood of Baghdad, Warner said. He added that "no ransom was paid" despite a request for a "very large" amount of money.

Wood was found under a blanket and the insurgents told troops he was their sick father, said Gen. Naseer al-Abadi, Iraq's deputy chief of staff. The operation also resulted in the arrest of three insurgents and release of an Iraqi hostage.

"This is a great day for Iraq. We are proud of the way our soldiers conducted themselves," al-Abadi said.

Wood was abducted in late April by a militant group calling itself the Shura Council of the Mujahedeen of Iraq.

The Australian government refused to bend to the kidnappers' demands that its 1,400 troops be withdrawn from Iraq. It sent diplomats, police and military personnel to Baghdad to seek his release.

"I am delighted to inform the House that the Australian hostage in Iraq, Mr. Douglas Wood, is safe," Prime Minister John Howard told Parliament in Canberra, Australia.

Howard told reporters an Iraqi military unit, in cooperation with U.S. forces, rescued Wood.

In Khalis, about 45 miles north of Baghdad, the bomber walked into the crowded mess hall wearing an army uniform and waiting until soldiers had gathered for lunch before blowing himself up, Iraqi army Col. Saleh al-Obeidi said.

In a separate attack, eight Iraqi policemen were killed when a bomber slammed into two police cars in the capital. Thirteen bystanders also were wounded as two police cars burst into flames at the intersection in a predominantly Shiite neighborhood, police said.

Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility for either attack, they bore the hallmarks of Iraq's radical extremist groups — which regularly use suicide attackers.

In one such attack Tuesday in northern Kirkuk, a man wearing a similar belt loaded with explosives killed 23 people and wounded nearly 100 after striking outside a bank as retirees waited to cash their pension checks.

Al Qaeda's northern affiliate, the Ansar al-Sunnah Army (search), claimed responsibility for Tuesday's attack and threatened more violence in retaliation for the arrests and killings of Sunni Arabs.

On Wednesday night, five people — including two children — were killed when three mortar shells landed on a well-known Baghdad kebab restaurant, police said. Eight people were wounded.

The attack in western Baghdad's Shurta district apparently targeted a nearby police headquarters building, police Capt. Talib Thamer said. The restaurant, in a residential district, was crowded at the time of the attack, he added.

Earlier Wednesday, two former Iraqi military officers — a father and a son — with alleged links to Al Qaeda were arrested while planting roadside bombs, the Interior Ministry said.

The two are top aides to Jordanian-born Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi (search), head of the Al Qaeda in Iraq (search) terrorist group, and were arrested near Khaldiyah, 75 miles west of Baghdad, said Col. Adnan Abdul Rahman, a ministry spokesman. He identified them as former Maj. Gen. Abid Dawood Salman and his son, former Capt. Raid Abid Dawood.

Two Bulgarian soldiers were killed and another injured late Tuesday when their vehicle slid into a canal about 34 miles southeast of Diwaniya, in south-central Iraq, where about 400 Bulgarian soldiers are serving.

At least 12 Bulgarian soldiers have died in Iraq.

Iraqi legislators, meanwhile, seemed close to agreement Wednesday on a demand by Sunni Arabs for more participation in drafting a constitution.

Such an agreement would help defuse growing sectarian tension between the majority Shiites, who control the government, and the Sunnis. The minority is thought to make up the core of an insurgency that has killed at least 1,042 people since Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's government was announced on April 28.

Insurgents blew up a pipeline near Baghdad late Tuesday that carries crude oil between the domestic refineries of Beiji and Dora, a police officer said. It was still burning Wednesday, he added.

A gunbattle broke out in Baghdad's western Saydiyah neighborhood when gunmen opened fire on a police patrol, police Lt. Mohammed al-Heyali said. One civilian was killed and six police officers were wounded.