By Nelson Hernandez and Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
BAGHDAD, Jan. 17 -- The captors of an American journalist kidnapped in Baghdad 10 days ago threatened to kill her in three days unless authorities freed all female prisoners in Iraq, according to an Arabic television network that aired a brief video of the woman Tuesday night.
Jill Carroll, a freelance reporter based in Baghdad, was shown speaking, but there was no sound with the video shown by al-Jazeera. Her skin was pale and her dark hair was pulled back from her face and straying in untidy strands. She appeared to be exhausted, but her face remained composed as she spoke.
The clip was the first sight of Carroll, 28, since she was abducted by gunmen in Baghdad as she left the office of Sunni Arab politician Adnan Dulaimi on Jan. 7. Her Iraqi interpreter, Allan Enwiyah, was shot and killed.
CBS News reported that the name "Vengeance Brigade" appeared on a banner partially obscured by al-Jazeera's logo when the tape aired. A group by that name kidnapped a Swedish Iraqi politician in early 2005 and released him after demanding millions of dollars in ransom. It was not known if any ransom was paid in that case. Groups in Iraq often adopt and change names at will, and it was not known if the same band was responsible for both abductions.
Insurgent groups in Iraq often include among their demands the freeing of female detainees held by U.S. forces here. Shortly after the Carroll kidnapping, protesters at a Sunni mosque in Baghdad -- which had been raided by U.S. and Iraqi forces -- spoke angrily of what they said was the U.S. detention of a Sunni woman and her young daughter from the community of Abu Ghraib just outside the capital. U.S. authorities have not confirmed such a detention.
"Jill is an innocent journalist and we respectfully ask that you please show her mercy and allow her to return home," Carroll's family asked her abductors in a message issued by her father, Jim, and posted on the Web site of the Christian Science Monitor, the newspaper for which Carroll was working as a freelancer.
The statement said Carroll "has been dedicated to bringing the truth of the Iraq war to the world."
In other developments Tuesday, Iraq's president expressed confidence that the country's major political parties would form a united government in the weeks ahead, putting aside ethnic and sectarian rivalries for the sake of protecting the country's fragile democracy.
"We are keen that the government does not only include Kurds and Shiites," the dominant forces in Iraq's upcoming parliament, President Jalal Talabani said at a news conference in Baghdad, according to the Associated Press. It should also include the Sunni Arab-dominated Accordance Front and other blocs, he said.
At a time of intense violence and communal bickering, the need for a united government is rooted in practical politics, observers say.
Shiite Muslims, who make up about 60 percent of Iraq's population, won a convincing victory in the Dec. 15 elections, according to preliminary results, but will need support from other groups to form a stable government. Shiite and Kurdish parties, as well as U.S. officials, are also looking for a way to wean Sunni Arabs away from the insurgent movement responsible for much of the daily violence in Iraq.
To entice Sunnis into the political process, Shiites and Kurds are moving toward giving them a share of political power and yielding to demands that the country stay unified, rather than splitting along ethnic and sectarian lines into regional strongholds.
Saleh Mutlak, one of the country's most prominent Sunni Arab politicians, endorsed the idea of uniting with the other parties, saying the United States and Britain needed to help put pressure on people unwilling to work out the differences.
"Let's stop talking about spilling blood," Mutlak said. "Iraqis are getting fed up giving blood."
Several obstacles to forming a government remain.
First, the final results of the elections have yet to be released, more than a month after Iraqis went to the polls. Sunni Arab and secular parties have said the voting was tainted by fraud.
Second, the country's most influential Shiite politician, Abdul Aziz Hakim, said last week that he was unwilling to "change the essence" of the constitution, despite an earlier promise to Sunnis that the new government would be given four months to make substantial revisions to the charter. The outcome of the constitutional question is critically important to Sunnis, who want a strong national government to protect their access to the country's oil revenue.
Finally, there are the complex, multi-sided negotiations over the formation of the government. Talabani's spokesman, Kamran Qaradaghi, said that the various political parties had been in contact with one another but that talks would begin in earnest with the announcement of final election results, expected by the end of the month.
Mutlak said he had spoken to most of the parties making up the main Shiite religious coalition and had been encouraged, but said he was troubled by Hakim's comments on the constitution.
"For me, this is outside interference," Mutlak said, voicing a suspicion common among Sunnis that neighboring Iran, a Shiite theocracy, was using Iraq's Shiite religious parties as proxies for its own ends.
Adding to such fears was another incident reported Tuesday, in which the Iraqi government asserted that an Iranian ship had attacked Iraqi coast guard vessels in the disputed Shatt al Arab waterway near the Persian Gulf. The Iraqis had been chasing a merchant ship suspected of smuggling oil when the ship raised an Iranian flag and called for help from nearby Iranian navy ships, the governor of Basra province, Mohammed Waeli, said in an interview.
The Iranians fired at the two Iraqi patrol boats, then boarded them, arresting eight Iraqi sailors and injuring one, Waeli said.
Iranian diplomats at first denied that the incident had taken place, but later acknowledged that it was "under investigation," according to the Reuters news service.
A spokesman for Iraq's Foreign Ministry, Omar Baytay, said that the foreign minister had met with an Iranian envoy in Baghdad, but that he did not know the results of their discussion.
Elsewhere in Iraq, a week of relative peace continued following a wave of suicide bombings earlier this month. In one of the few incidents reported Tuesday, gunmen attacked the headquarters of a Kurdish political party and a government office in the northern city of Kirkuk, according to a police officer there. The attacks, which killed two people, appeared to have been conducted by the same group.
And in Washington, a Pentagon official said the U.S. military was investigating the possibility that a Russian-made SA-7 surface-to-air missile was used to shoot down an AH-64 Apache helicopter north of Baghdad on Monday. Two crew members were killed in the crash.
Thousands of shoulder-fired missiles were missing in Iraq following the U.S. military invasion in 2003. But reports that the heat-seeking SA-7s have downed American aircraft have been rare.
The missile was also suspected in the November 2003 crash of an Army Chinook transport helicopter that killed 16 soldiers.
Staff writer Ann Scott Tyson in Washington and special correspondents Omar Fekeiki and Bassam Sebti in Baghdad contributed to this report.