- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Reunited with her family after 82 days in captivity, Jill Carroll is surely reflecting on how she was so lucky to be released from her kidnappers. In time the Carroll family will tell the story of her rescue. But in the meantime, she’s facing some questions over the statements she made right before her release about how well she was treated, and when she said, “It’s important that people hear from me. The Mujahideen are only trying to defend their country.”

Some are concerned that such statements could be used against the United States, and could help to increase anti-Americanism in the Middle East. But no one believed that what she said when her life was at stake were her legitimate, rational thoughts; she did what she had to do to stay alive.

One of the most interesting characters in the saga is the person who helped bring her home — one of the strange bedfellows that the war in Iraq has created. Sheik Sattam al-Gaaod, a Sunni Arab leader who was once close to Saddam Hussein, negotiated with Miss Carroll’s kidnappers over a large ransom. Her safe return became his mission, and he promised Miss Carroll’s parents that he would do what he could to help save her.

Miss Carroll was kidnapped in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Baghdad while going to an interview with Sunni Arab leader Adnan al-Dulaimi. Her translator, Allan Enwiyah, a Christian Iraqi and 31-year-old father of two, was shot and killed on the spot. No one knew anything about Miss Carroll’s whereabouts for 10 days, until the first indication came that she was alive a — video broadcast on Al Jazeera. Her kidnappers asked the U.S. government to release all Iraqi women prisoners within 72 hours. The United States immediately ruled out any negotiations. Time passed with no word. Interestingly, U.S. forces released five female Iraqi detainees in the following days, but denied the two events were linked. On Jan. 30, Al Jazeera broadcast another videotape — this one showing Miss Carroll weeping and pleading for the U.S. and Iraqi officials to meet her captors’ demands.

Coincidentally, at this time, syndicated journalist Daphne Barak was interviewing the sheik, who recently had been released from prison. The leader of the most powerful Sunni tribe in Iraq, he’d spent months in a cell next to Tariq Aziz, which is why Ms. Barak wanted to talk with him. During the interview, the sheik said kidnapping is wrong and that Miss Carroll should be released. “I don’t agree with any kind of kidnapping,” he said. “[I] don’t have time to think about any other people but my (Iraqi) people. I hope the father and mother of Jill Carroll understand me, because I’m not.” His answer trailed off, but Ms. Barak followed up, asking, “Now you are out of jail, and you are a very influential man. Why won’t you pick up the phone to whoever and say, ‘Hey, let’s release her’?” The sheik replied, “Nobody asked me, and I don’t like to be in auction of human race.” Ms. Barak decided to open backdoor communications between the Carroll family and the sheik.

From Jan. 30 to March 30, Ms. Barak and the Carrolls stayed in touch, hoping for Jill’s safe return. Several things in their conversations helped them remain hopeful. First, in all his public and private pleas, the Iraqi mentioned that he was a member of the Islamic Party. (When she was released, Miss Carroll was dropped off at the party headquarters.) Second, the sheik told Ms. Barak and the Carrolls in advance about the release of a Jordanian hostage a few weeks ago. That hostage, a Jordanian Embassy employee named Mahmoud Suleiman Saidat, thanked the Iraqi government and unnamed Iraqi dignitaries for their help in saving his life when he, too, was released to the Islamic Party.

When Mr. Saidat was free, the sheik made a donation to Iraqi orphans and widows. Then he told Ms. Barak and the Carrolls that he’d gotten a message that Jill was fine and would be released soon. During those two months, the sheik told Ms. Barak he was negotiating with the kidnappers over a significant amount of money. Ms. Barak didn’t pass the information along to the Carroll family; they were informed of the ransom demand only after Jill’s release.

The sheik did not pay the ransom, but once again he agreed to make donations to Iraqi orphans and widows. According to an executive aide to the sheik, he is currently negotiating to try to secure the release of other hostages.

Sheik Sattam al-Gaaod appears to be emerging as the hope and savior of foreign hostages in Iraq. He opposes the occupation, but says, “• espite our governments, Americans and Iraqis can be friends.”

Tulin Daloglu is the Washington correspondent and columnist for Turkey’s Star TV and newspaper. A former BBC reporter, she writes occasionally for The Washington Times.

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