[Mb-civic] 'Like Falling Off a Cliff For 3 Months' - Washington Post
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Fri Mar 31 03:41:13 PST 2006
'Like Falling Off a Cliff For 3 Months'
Uncertainty of Captivity Ends for Reporter in Iraq
By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, March 31, 2006; A01
BAGHDAD, March 30 -- Jill Carroll wondered from day to day whether she
would grow old or die a hostage.
"It was like falling off a cliff for three months, waiting to hit the
ground," the 28-year-old American reporter said Thursday after being
released by her kidnappers.
A shuffle from car to street to the branch office of a Sunni Arab
political party and then to its headquarters brought Carroll to freedom
on a beautiful spring day in Baghdad.
When she walked into the Iraqi Islamic Party's branch, she was still
wearing one of the head scarves and enveloping embroidered dresses given
to her by her captors. The black gloves of a conservative Muslim woman,
also given to her by her captors, hid her hands.
Shortly after Carroll's arrival, the head of the party telephoned The
Washington Post's Baghdad bureau. Carroll, a freelance journalist who
wrote for the Christian Science Monitor, said she wanted to see familiar
faces and had had many friends on The Post's staff since the early days
of the war. Devoted to mastering Arabic and Middle Eastern culture and
to covering Iraq, she was particularly close to the paper's young Iraqi
interpreters and reporters.
In the party leader's chair-lined offices, with Sunni politicians
looking on, Carroll and her friends were reunited. They embraced and
cried through her first conversations in English in more than 80 days.
Then, with a cellphone borrowed from one of the politicians, Carroll
woke up her twin sister, father and mother in the United States,
punching in their numbers one after another.
Katie, Dad, Mom. It's Jill. I'm fine. I'm free.
She borrowed another cellphone when the first one lost power. She begged
her family's forgiveness.
Three months without exercise had made her face round. Her captors had
treated her well, she said, and she never dared turn down their offers
of meals or candy for fear of giving offense. I'm fat, she said.
She asked for news of the world. She was shocked to hear of the prayers
on her behalf, of the media coverage, of the vigils and balloon releases
at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.
Kidnapped Jan. 7, three weeks after Iraq's national elections, she was
shocked as well to hear that Iraq had still not formed a new government.
"You know that shelf?" she asked. She meant a mirror-backed knickknack
cabinet in the entry of the Post house in Baghdad. For one reason or
another, it had become a place to put photos of close friends killed
over the nearly three years of war in Iraq.
The cabinet had three shelves. Two of the shelves already held a photo,
both of them, coincidentally, of young women.
"I kept thinking about that shelf," Carroll said. "I didn't want to be
that third shelf."
Post staffers had had the same thought. They removed the shelf and hid
it the day after she was kidnapped.
One of Carroll's hardest days had been Wednesday, the day before her
release, she said, when she broke down and cried hard, muffling the
sound with her abaya in the room where she was being held. She prayed.
Coincidentally, her twin sister, Katie, appeared that same day on
al-Arabiya television, saying it had been nearly two months since the
last news or video of her sister. "I also hope that those with Jill have
come to know her -- that they recognize what a wonderful person she is
and realize that they can show the world that they are merciful to an
innocent woman by returning her safely home to us,'' Katie Carroll said.
Hours later, Carroll's captors dropped her off in a Baghdad
neighborhood, outside an office of the Iraqi Islamic Party. The
politicians inside gave her juice, candy, water and tissues.
Composed, Carroll negotiated her way through the first of many
politically laden conversations she would have Thursday, trying to stick
to what she wanted and didn't want to say.
The party officials asked her to write out and sign a statement saying
she had not been harmed in her brief time at their offices. They had her
record a question-and-answer session on camera that they said was for
their records. It showed up on television shortly afterward.
Party leader Tariq al-Hashimi presented her with an embossed Koran in a
plush box. The Koran was for the true followers of Islam, Hashimi said,
and he mentioned the Iraqi people. Accepting it, Carroll said her
suffering was nothing compared with theirs.
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