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Hostage team flies to Iraq

Wood speaks to a video camera as militants point an assault rifle at him.
• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide
John Howard

SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- The Australian Government has asked the United Nations to help secure the release of an Australian man kidnapped in Iraq.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer met U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan Monday to discuss what could be done to help free 63-year old engineer Douglas Wood.

An extremist group calling itself the Shura Council of Mujahideen has threatened to murder Wood within days if its demands are not met to withdraw Australian troops from Iraq.

Downer said that an Australian rescue team, including the Deputy Secretary of his department Nick Warner, members of the Australian Federal Police and Defense personnel will arrive in Iraq on Tuesday.

"I asked the secretary-general if the United Nations could do all within its power to try to help release the Australian who's being held hostage in Iraq," Mr Downer told Australia's ABC radio.

"We're very pleased that the United Nations secretary-general is helping," Downer said.

The U.S. Government has also offered Australia "every assistance possible" in securing Mr Wood's release.

Downer said the Australian government has also been liaising with the transitional government of Iraq which had resources to assist a release operation.

However he reiterated that the Australian Government would not remove its troops from Iraq or pay a ransom to the militants.

"We are not subcontracting Australian foreign policy to terrorists," he said.

"There are rumors that some groups in Iraq think they can fund their insurgent activities by taking people hostage and getting payments. We're certainly never going to be part of that," he said.

Australia's Prime Minister John Howard told ABC radio everything was being done to secure Wood's release.

"I hope that -- well, there's very little that can be of comfort -- but I hope that's of some reassurance. We are trying very hard to secure his release, but it's very difficult," Howard said.

Defense analyst Derek Woolner, told CNN that ransoms have been paid in the past to secure the release of hostages, often by companies and other organizations so there was not the direct involvement of the government.

But he said securing Woods release would be difficult.

"In this case the nut could be difficult to crack," he said Tuesday.

A video released by the militants showed Wood sitting on the floor, surrounded by two masked militants with an assault rifle pointed at his head.

In the video, Wood urges Howard, U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair to withdraw their troops from Iraq before making an emotional appeal for his life.

"Please help me. I don't want to die," Wood said.

Wood's wife, Pearl, who lives in California, has confirmed that the man on the tape is her husband.

Under the Howard government, Australia has been a strong supporter of the Bush administration and has contributed forces and equipment to the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Australian sent 2,000 troops, along with ships and aircraft, to take part in the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003 and later reduced the number to about 950 after the ousting of Saddam Hussein.

Howard's decision to take part in the war was not popular, but voters returned his center-right coalition to power in October last year and rejected an opposition candidate who had promised to withdraw if elected.

In February, Howard announced that about 450 additional Australian soldiers would be sent to the south of the country to help protect Japanese engineers based there and to assist in training Iraqi soldiers.

Those forces arrived last month. There have been no Australian forces killed so far in Iraq, though several have been injured.

Australian Defense Minister Robert Hill held talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari in Baghdad on Sunday.

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