BAGHDAD, IRAQ, NOV. 24 -- Iraqi President Saddam Hussein today ordered that 11 British men previously held as human shields at strategic sites in Iraq be freed to go home with visiting relatives, Iraq's state radio said.

Nine British wives and the daughter of an elderly British couple were summoned to meet Saddam today along with Jean Hromatka, 28, an American married to Briton Nigel Nightingale. The women had come to Baghdad -- most of them 10 days ago -- against the advice of the British and U.S. governments, seeking the release of their husbands and parents.

After the announcement, expressions of relief and elation filled the dining room of the Mansour Melia, the government-run hotel where hostages and their visiting relatives have been lodged by the government. Hromatka said she was "thrilled" to have her husband back.

"No one encouraged me to come," said Hromatka, from Minnesota. "But it is in situations like this that you find out how courageous you are."

"If one woman can get her husband back, it's an achievement and more than any government has done," said John Cox, whose wife Carol, organized the group, which paid its own way to Baghdad but is being hosted at the hotel at the expense of the Iraqi government.

State radio also reported today that Saddam had promised a visiting Catholic priest that he would free "a large number" of Italian hostages.