A Filipino man held captive for two weeks in Iraq was delivered to freedom in a black luxury sedan Tuesday, a day after the last of a small Philippine military contingent left Iraq to prevent his execution.
Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo earned the displeasure of her chief ally, the United States, for bowing to kidnappers' demands that her country withdraw its 51 troops from Iraq. But she was unrepentant Tuesday, saying the hostage, Angelo de la Cruz, had became a symbol of the 8 million Filipinos who have left their poor country to send home money from hard and sometimes dangerous work abroad.
"I made a decision to bring our troops home a few days early in order to save the life of de la Cruz," she said in Manila. "I do not regret my decision."
In western Iraq, meanwhile, three American military personnel were killed in action Tuesday, and a fourth died of wounds sustained earlier. The U.S. Central Command reported that all four -- two Marines and two soldiers -- died in Anbar province, but it provided no other details.
De la Cruz, the freed Filipino, was delivered to the United Arab Emirates Embassy in Baghdad shortly after 10:30 a.m. Witnesses said he was dropped off by a black BMW. He had some difficulty explaining to the embassy guard who he was before he was admitted. He was later driven to the Philippine Embassy.
De la Cruz, 46, a truck driver for a Saudi company, was kidnapped July 7 near Fallujah as he was transporting fuel to U.S. military bases.
In Bahrain, Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East and Afghanistan, told reporters it was "regrettable countries are making decisions that would appear to be appeasing terrorists as opposed to standing up to them," according to the Reuters news agency.
In the Philippines, however, Arroyo's decision was cheered. The fate of de la Cruz, a father of eight, became a national drama, and there were celebrations in his northern home town on news of his release. Filipinos touched by his plight have offered de la Cruz a job, scholarships for his children and a new house for his family, now living in a two-room shack.
Arroyo said her decision proved that her government has an interest in Filipino overseas workers "wherever they live and work."
In addition to foreigners, Iraqi officials have been chief targets of the shadowy groups that have carried out kidnappings, car and suicide bombings and ambushes. In the southern city of Basra on Tuesday morning, a city councilman who was a candidate to become provincial governor was assassinated along with two bodyguards as they left his house for work.
The car of the official, Hazim Aynachi, was stopped by men in Iraqi police uniforms, who then fired into the car.
"Nobody feels safe," said Mohammad Hawi, 35, a Basra resident. "This undermines the new democracy and the new era for Iraq. No one here supports the assassinations." In the past week, another town official and the head of a humanitarian organization in Basra were killed by gunmen.
In other incidents, four Iraqi civilians were killed in Baqubah, about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, when a roadside bomb blew up the bus they were riding in, according to local reports. The bomb apparently was intended for a military convoy, but the detonation was mistimed.
Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, was in Jordan on Tuesday as part of a swing through the Middle East to renew relations with Arab countries that viewed Iraq with suspicion during Saddam Hussein's decades in power.
At the same time, however, Defense Minister Hazim Shalan seemed to threaten Iraq's neighbors for allowing insurgents to cross their borders. In an interview with the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, Shalan said Iraq would "move the terrorist operations to the countries that support terrorism in Iraq."
Although Shalan did not name the potential targets of Iraq's anger, Iraq has accused Syria and Iran of undermining security in Iraq. Shalan did say that Iran has "formed several security and intelligence centers in Iraq" and has sent spies into the country. He said surrounding countries have been warned, "and we kept saying that we have the ability to move the aggression . . . to these countries."
"We have confronted these counties with evidence and facts, but nothing was done to stop their support of the terrorists and operations in Iraq," he said.
[A roadside bomb exploded north of Baghdad early Wednesday, killing one U.S. 1st Infantry Division soldier and bringing to at least 900 the number of U.S. military forces killed since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the Associated Press reported.
The most recent soldier killed was on patrol in a Bradley fighting vehicle in Duluiyah, 45 miles north of Baghdad, when the bomb detonated shortly after midnight, Maj. Neal O'Brien of the 1st Infantry Division said. ]
Special correspondent Emad Zainal in Basra contributed to this report.