Forty foreign journalists and two American soldiers captured in the strife-torn Iraqi city of Basra reached freedom Saturday.

The journalists were tired, hungry and stripped of their expensive gear, but they were happy to be free."We went after the story and the story got us," said John Giordano of New York City, who works for SABA photo agency.

The journalists and soldiers were turned over to the Red Cross in Baghdad Friday.

The Pentagon identified the soldiers as 1st Lt. Kevin L. Rice, 27, and Pvt. Lem R. Jeffries, 32. Both are assigned to the 9th Engineers Battalion, VII U.S. Army Corps based in Germany. The soldiers refused to talk with reporters.

The journalists were bused from Baghdad to the Jordanian border post of Ruweished, where most were picked up by their organizations for the trip to Amman, 130 miles west.

They were captured near Basra last weekend after venturing beyond areas controlled by the U.S. military to try to cover unrest in that southern Iraqi port city.

Giordano and his colleagues said they entered Iraq last Sunday in a convoy of vehicles from Kuwait. They said they saw no military checkpoints but passed Iraqi soldiers who smiled and waved at them.

Odd R. Andersen, a Norwegian photographer with Oslo's Dagbladet newspaper, said the journalists asked some soldiers if they could continue into Basra. "They said, `Of course. Welcome. It is peace.' "

But 25 miles south of Basra, they ran into a roadblock run by Republican Guards, who arrested them.

"They were very upset that we had a Saudi rental car," Andersen said.

The journalists said the soldiers confiscated their cars and vans, as well as cameras, computers and other gear.

"I don't think it had to do with anything but simple greed," said Ron Jacques, another SABA photographer from New York.

They said they were questioned and held five days in a military prison, where toilets flooded into their cells on rainy days and food was scanty. They were bused to Baghdad on Thursday.

During their imprisonment, they had no news from the outside world, but "we heard heavy shelling out of Basra," Andersen said.

"In two weeks, Iraq is going to split apart," Jacques said.

The journalists included 11 Americans, 17 French, three Italians, two Britons, two Norwegians, two Brazilians, a Spaniard, an Irish national and a Uruguayan.