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U.S. Contractor Freed; Four Others Killed

The U.S. military, acting on a tip, raided an isolated farmhouse outside the capital Wednesday and rescued an American held hostage for 10 months. The kidnappers, who had kept their captive bound and gagged, escaped without a gunbattle.

The rescue came on a day that saw two deadly bombings around the southern city of Basra (search), fueling fears the bloody insurgency was taking deeper root outside Sunni-dominated territory. A roadside bomb killed four American security guards, and an Interior Ministry official said 15 people were killed and 21 were injured in a car bombing at a restaurant in a central market.

Roy Hallums (search), 57, was "in good condition and is receiving medical care," a military statement said after U.S. forces freed him and an unidentified Iraqi from the farmhouse 15 miles south of Baghdad (search).

The tipster whose information led to Hallums' release was captured just a few hours before the operation, said Lt. Col. Steven A. Boylan, a military spokesman.

Hallums called his daughter early Wednesday from Iraq with news of his rescue, and apologized for causing her so much grief and pain.

"He apologized to me for putting me through any hardship," his eldest daughter, Carrie Anne Cooper, 29, said by telephone from her Westminster, Calif., home. "He got to say he was sorry, and I got to say I loved him. We got to say things we never thought we would be able to say."

Hallums, formerly of Newport Beach, Calif., was kidnapped at gunpoint from his office in the Mansour district of Baghdad on Nov. 1, 2004. At the time, he was working for the Saudi Arabian Trading and Construction Co., supplying food to the Iraqi army.

An Iraqi guard and one attacker were killed in the attack. The kidnappers also seized a Filipino, a Nepalese and three Iraqis also were seized, but later freed them.

"Considering what he's been through, I understand he's in good condition," said his ex-wife, Susan Hallums, 53, of Corona, Calif.

The family Web site was topped with a headline: Roy IS FREE!!!!!! 9/7/05.

In a January video issued by his kidnappers, Hallums had a shaggy beard and a gun pointed at his head. In the video, Hallums asked Arab leaders, singling out Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, to save his life. Gadhafi responded by calling on insurgents to release the American.

The family sent fliers to Iraq that, in English and Arabic, offered a $40,000 reward. His ex-wife had planned to raise the money by selling a house in Memphis, Tenn., that was left to her by her late mother.

Susan Hallums and her husband of 30 years divorced a few years ago but remained good friends. They have a second daughter, Amanda Hallums, 26, of Tennessee.

Hallums had been bound and gagged for much of his time in captivity, but doctors gave him a "clean bill of health" after the rescue, Cooper said. Hallums told his family the kidnappers escaped and that he planned to return to the United States within days.

"I've been waiting for this day, hoping for this day for a long time," Cooper said.

In a statement released by the military, Hallums said he and the rescued Iraqi were grateful.

"I want to thank all of those who were involved in my rescue — to those who continuously tracked my captors and location, and to those who physically brought me freedom today," he said. "To all of you, I will be forever grateful. Both of us are in good health and look forward to returning to our respective families. Thank you to all who kept me and my family in their thoughts and prayers."

More than 200 foreigners have been abducted in Iraq since the war began in March 2003; more than 30 have been killed.

Wednesday's roadside bombing in southern Iraq was noteworthy because attacks against Americans in the region of Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, are rare. The U.S. has only a minimal presence in the area. Also, Shiites, who are the dominant population in the south, have found themselves the political winners as new government structures take shape after the U.S.-led invasion.

The bomb flipped the guards' white SUV onto its roof in a ravine alongside a highway near Basra, a major oil center that is under the control of Britain's 8,500-strong contingent.

"All four individuals worked for a private security firm supporting the regional U.S. Embassy office in Basra," U.S. Embassy spokesman Peter Mitchell said in a statement.

AP Television News videotape showed the overturned SUV and six British Army Land Rovers, with Iraqi police cars and two civilian ambulances parked nearby. British soldiers loaded a body from the SUV into a military ambulance.

The car bombing happened later Wednesday at a takeout restaurant in a central Basra market, killing 16 and wounding 21, said an Interior Ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.

The felafel restaurant is in the Hayaniyah district market, a Shiite section of the city, Basra police Lt. Col. Karim al-Zaidi said. Two police vehicles and several nearby shops were destroyed in the blast.

Despite a peaceful postwar history in the south, violence has spiked in the past two months with attacks on Britons.

Meanwhile, a U.S. soldier was killed Wednesday in a non-combat accident in central Iraq, the military said.

Also Wednesday, an official of the court that will try Saddam Hussein discounted a claim by Iraq's president that the former leader had admitted wrongdoing in a confession to mass killings and other crimes during his rule.

In an Iraqi television interview aired Tuesday, President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, said Saddam had confessed he ordered the killing of more than 180,000 Kurds in the north of the country in the late 1980s.

"Saddam Hussein is a war criminal and he deserves to be executed 20 times a day for his crimes against humanity," said Talabani, who heads the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party. He claimed Saddam had tried to assassinate him at least 20 times.

The official of the Iraq Special Tribunal, which will put Saddam on trial Oct. 19, said Saddam made a statement last month, but did not confess to criminal activity. The former dictator "boastfully" acknowledged a campaign against the Kurds in 1987-88.

"He said it was legal and justified," according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

Saddam has charged that Iraqi Kurds — part of a disaffected ethnic minority that is spread across northern Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria — were aiding the enemy in Iraq's eight-year war against Iran. Millions died in the conflict, which Saddam started.