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Briton freed from Iraqi captivity to go home soon

BAGHDAD - BAGHDAD (AP) — A Briton released this week after more than two years as a hostage in Iraq is in good health and preparing to come home soon, a British spokesman said Thursday.

Peter Moore was kidnapped in May 2007 outside the Finance Ministry in Baghdad along with his four bodyguards. In a rare positive outcome for a foreign hostage held in Iraq, Moore was handed over Wednesday to the British Embassy in Baghdad. Three of the bodyguards died and the fourth is also believed to be dead.

A spokesman for the British Foreign Office in London said Moore was in good health Thursday and preparations were in the works to send him home "quite soon."

Moore and his bodyguards were kidnapped in a brazen daytime attack in 2007 by a group of men wearing military uniforms. While there were some snippets of news about them over the course of their captivity — including a video of Moore delivered to the British Embassy this year — it was not until August that hopes grew for Moore's release.

The extremist Shiite group, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, believed to have been holding Moore and the others, agreed after a meeting with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to lay down their arms and join the political process. In return, the prime minister agreed to seek the release of detainees in U.S. custody.

Under a process spelled out in a U.S.-Iraq security deal, the Americans have been transferring detainees in their custody to the Iraqi government and releasing others.

The militant group had especially been pushing for the release of Qais al-Khazali, who was accused of helping organize a daring attack on a local government headquarters in the southern city of Karbala that killed five U.S. soldiers in 2007.

Al-Khazali was recently handed over to Iraqi authorities, although there are conflicting statements on when exactly it happened. A spokeswoman for Britain's Foreign Office said Wednesday that U.S. forces transferred al-Khazali to Iraqi custody on Wednesday but denied any connection with Moore.

In Baghdad, a representative of al-Khazali's group and an Iraqi member of the negotiating team that helped secure Moore's release said al-Khazali was transferred about a week ago.

They said the militant group did not release Moore until it confirmed the transfer.

In a statement Thursday, the U.S. military said al-Khazali was released along with other members of the group after a request from the Iraqi government. Asaib Ahl al-Haq is one of many groups that the government of Iraq is working with as part of the reconciliation process designed to reduce violence, the U.S. military said.

The U.S. military did not respond to repeated requests for information about al-Khazali's current whereabouts, details on where the transfer took place and whether there was any deal for Moore's release.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office in London said al-Khazali was being held under house arrest in an Iraqi government villa guarded by about 20 armed security personnel. He referred all other questions to the Iraqi government.

All of the British officials spoke on customary condition of anonymity, in keeping with their practice.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called al-Maliki Thursday morning to thank him for his efforts to secure Moore's release, said a spokesman from Brown's Downing Street office.

The remains of three of the other Britons taken with Moore were returned to Britain earlier this year. It is not clear how they died, although two had multiple gunshot wounds. British officials have said they believe the fourth bodyguard is also dead.

Meanwhile, Iraqi authorities raised the death toll from twin suicide bombings in the western city of Ramadi to 24 after one patient died in the hospital.

The blasts in downtown Ramadi, about 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Baghdad, took place outside the provincial government building Wednesday. After the first blast, the provincial governor went out to look at the damage and narrowly missed being killed by a second suicide bomber who detonated his explosives yards from the governor.

The governor was transported by the U.S. military to Baghdad where he was being treated Thursday at a U.S. medical facility, said a military spokesman.


Associated Press Writer Katharine Houreld contributed to this report.


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