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HOSTAGE FOR TWO MONTHS

British Journalist for CBS Freed in Iraqi Army Raid

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By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, April 15, 2008

BAGHDAD, April 14 -- A British journalist kidnapped two months ago in the southern city of Basra while on assignment for CBS News was freed Monday.

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A team of Iraqi army soldiers found Richard Butler when they raided a house in central Basra on Monday afternoon, said Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Askari, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry.

The freelance journalist was on assignment for "60 Minutes" when he was abducted from a hotel Feb. 10. He was "in very good health condition, mentally and physically," Askari said.

"The Iraqi army stormed the house and overcame my guards, and they burst through the door," Butler told al-Iraqiya state television. "I had my hood on, which I had to have on all the time, and they shouted something at me and I took my hood off." He said he felt "pretty weak" and had lost weight.

"I'm looking forward to a decent meal and getting back to my family and my friends at CBS," Butler said.

CBS News released a statement saying, "We're incredibly grateful that our colleague, Richard Butler, has been released and is safe."

His release provided a boost to Iraqi security forces, whose performance during a recent operation against militias in Basra drew criticism and led to the dismissal of 1,300 Iraqi soldiers and policemen.

Also Monday, car bombings and other attacks killed at least 22 people in Iraq. The deadliest, a car bombing in the northwestern province of Nineveh, killed at least 12 people, according to a provincial police official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release information.

At least four people, including two police officers, were killed in a car bombing in Baghdad, according to police. And in Tall Afar, also in Nineveh province, four people were killed and nearly 30 wounded in a suicide bombing during a funeral for an Iraqi soldier.

At least two U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq on Monday. One died in Salahuddin province, north of Baghdad, in an "improvised explosive device attack," the military said in a statement. In northeastern Baghdad, a soldier was killed after a roadside bomb struck his vehicle.

Late Monday, the U.S. military announced it would release an Associated Press photographer who has been in custody for two years. The military said it decided to release Bilal Hussein because Iraqi judicial officials granted him amnesty for his alleged crimes. The military accused Hussein of links to insurgents, which he and his employer denied.

A top U.S. military official told reporters in Baghdad on Monday afternoon that Iraqi and U.S. forces have succeeded in reducing the number of rockets that land in the Green Zone. After the Basra offensive, rocket fire had nearly paralyzed the heavily protected sector that includes the U.S. Embassy and the Iraqi parliament.

The official attributed the success to round-the-clock aerial surveillance of eastern Baghdad's Sadr City district, a stronghold of Shiite militias loyal to cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and the area where most rockets are launched. The surveillance allows for quick strikes against the rocket-launching teams.

"We've got this thing down to a science," said the official, who briefed journalists on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing sensitive information.

Sadr issued a statement Monday decrying the firing of the 1,300 Iraqi soldiers and policemen dismissed after the Basra operation. Some were accused of helping the militias, including Sadr's Mahdi Army.

"The brothers in the army and police who handed over their weapons to [the Mahdi Army] did so . . . out of religious and patriotic commitment," Sadr said.

Special correspondents Zaid Sabah and Naseer Nouri in Baghdad and Dlovan Brwari in Mosul contributed to this report.


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