Iraq Army Rescues British Journalist

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
Los Angeles Times
April 15, 2008 In Basra, a raid seeking illegal weapons turns up Richard Butler, who had been kidnapped Feb. 10.
By Tina Susman, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
BAGHDAD — For more than two months, British journalist Richard Butler had sat with a hood over his head wondering what his kidnappers in the southern city of Basra were planning.
Suddenly on Monday, gunshots rang through the house where he was held. There were shouts. The door to his room burst open, and Butler tore off his hood to see Iraqi army soldiers.
They were as surprised to see Butler as he was to see them, according to Iraqi military officials, who described Monday's rescue of the freelancer, on contract with CBS News, as a stroke of luck during a search of a house for illegal weapons.
Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed Askari said Iraqi forces stumbled upon Butler about noon while conducting the search as part of an ongoing government offensive on illegal militias in Basra. Askari said "the elements" responsible for abducting Butler and his Iraqi interpreter Feb. 10 had been captured, but he gave no additional details.
Butler had not been heard from since his abduction. It was not immediately clear who the kidnappers were and whether he had been held for ransom or strictly for political purposes.
He appeared healthy on Iraqi TV, which showed him being greeted by Iraqi military and political officials. Between hugs and gulps of water, Butler said he had been required to wear a hood at all times.
"There was lots of shouting and gunfire," he said, describing the commotion when the troops arrived. "Then the door burst open."
Butler's release came as the U.S. military indicated that the offensive in Basra, which began March 25, had entered a new phase in which the heaviest fighting was over. A military statement said forces were focusing on clearing areas no longer under militia control and scouring them for weapon caches.
"Our forces now control most of Basra," said Abdul Kareem Khalaf, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry. He added that raids and arrests would continue.
On Sunday, the Iraqi government said it had fired more than 1,300 soldiers and police officers who refused to fight during the offensive in Basra and other areas, including Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood, the stronghold of radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr. The deserters cited political, ethnic and religious reasons.
Sadr's Mahdi Army militia has accused Iraqi and U.S. forces of unfairly targeting it in Basra and elsewhere.
On Monday, Sadr demanded that the Iraqi government reinstate rather than court-martial the soldiers and police officers who refused to fight. In a statement released by his representatives, Sadr said those who refused had acted out of religious and patriotic reasons and should be honored, not fired.
There were no major clashes reported Monday in Sadr City or in Basra, 275 miles south of Baghdad. At least 28 Iraqis died in bomb blasts and other violence around Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul.
The U.S. military reported the deaths of three soldiers in attacks Monday: two in northeast Baghdad when their vehicle was destroyed by a roadside bomb, and the third in Salahuddin province northwest of Baghdad. At least 4,036 U.S. forces have died in Iraq since the war began in March 2003, according to the independent website
In Baghdad, a bomb on a bus on Sinaa Street, a bustling avenue lined with computer shops, killed three people. Six more Iraqis died when a roadside bomb exploded elsewhere in Baghdad.
In Rabia, a town about 70 miles northwest of Mosul near the Syrian border, a car bomb killed at least 14 soldiers, police said. Mosul is considered a stronghold of Sunni Arab extremists, who slip across the porous Syrian border. In central Mosul, a car bomb killed one person.
In Tall Afar, 40 miles west of Mosul, police said at least four people died when a bomber detonated an explosives vest during a funeral.
CBS and the British Embassy expressed relief that Butler had been found. "We are incredibly grateful that our colleague, Richard Butler, has been released and is safe," CBS spokeswoman Sandy Genelius said in New York.
Askari, the Defense Ministry spokesman, said gunmen in the house had opened fire on the Iraqi troops when they arrived to search for weapons. Butler said someone began shouting at him and, at that point, he tore off his hood and saw Iraqi soldiers. They untied his hands and led him to safety.
At least one gunman was injured, one was captured, and two others escaped, officials said. Butler's interpreter was freed unharmed Feb. 13.
The British Embassy in Baghdad said Butler was being cared for by British and U.S. forces in Basra.
"We are delighted at this news and wish to pay tribute to the alertness and professionalism of the Iraqi army units who recovered Mr. Butler," the embassy said in a statement.
Special correspondents in Basra, Baghdad and northern Iraq contributed to this report.