'Like Falling Off a Cliff For 3 Months'

In an image from television, Tariq al-Hashimi of the Iraqi Islamic Party gives Jill Carroll a gift at his offices, where she was reunited with many friends.
In an image from television, Tariq al-Hashimi of the Iraqi Islamic Party gives Jill Carroll a gift at his offices, where she was reunited with many friends. (Associated Press)

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By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, March 31, 2006

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.


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