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Jill Carroll: finally free

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Her support among Iraqis appeared to be quite strong. Several Iraqi newspapers and television stations took up her cause. They reported her story, editorialized for her freedom, and donated public-service announcements designed by the Monitor's Baghdad correspondents that pleaded for Carroll's release.

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Even the mother of a young Iraqi woman detained for months by the government without charges and finally released in late January was willing to speak publicly on Carroll's behalf. Politicians across the Iraqi political spectrum, especially leaders from the Sunni sect also spoke out emotionally on Carroll's behalf.

Across the Muslim world, voices not normally heard on behalf of an American, called for Jill's release: Hamas in the Palestinian territories, the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo, and many others.

Hope rose with the release of the remaining three Christian Peacekeepers hostages last week. But it had been nearly two months since Carroll's last video was dated, and many experts were privately beginning to express discouragement about her status. It had been quiet too long, and without a single confirmed attempt to negotiate.

For the Monitor's "Team Jill" - an informal group of editors and writers who worked on her case, each assigned separate tasks - it was a difficult time.

Washington bureau chief David Cook every day passed a photo of Carroll taped to the door of the bureau's building. "You'd come in the door and see her picture and think, 'have I done everything I could today to help get her out?'" says Cook.

Monitor editor Bergenheim said no money had been exchanged for Carroll's release.

Following Carroll's arrival at the IIP office Thursday, the party's Secretary General Tariq al-Hashimi led a ceremony in which he handed the freed journalist gifts, and praised her release.

Mr. Hashimi is a rival for influence among Iraq's Sunni Arab minority of Adnan al-Dulaimi's, the politician Carroll had sought to interview on the morning of Jan. 7. Mr. Dulaimi has repeatedly denied involvement. Dulaimi has said that his political rivals - both Shiite and Sunni - were trying to hurt his political standing.

Leading IIP member Naser al-Ani said her appearance at their office, in a blue Islamic robe and wearing a light green headscarf identical to the one she wore in a Feb. 28 video issued by her captors, was completely unexpected. He said guards at the office "thought she was a party member - dressed Islamically like that, they thought she worked in [the Iraqi government's] Women's Affairs department."

Mr. Ani said she was dropped off near the office, in a Sunni stronghold in Western Baghdad. In a press conference, Hashimi said she bore a letter from her captors that she gave to the IIP guards.

A measure of the extent to which she was cut off from the outside world was that she didn't know if her driver had escaped on Jan. 7 during the abduction. News of his safety was a great relief to Carroll, her father Jim Carroll said.

"She knew about Alan, but did not know about [the driver],'' Mr. Carroll says. "She started to break down when we were talking about it, so I didn't pursue that too much."

Shortly before her release, her kidnappers also warned Carroll about talking to the US or going to the Green Zone, alleging to her that it was "infiltrated by the Mujahideen" and that she might be killed if she cooperated with the Americans, her family says.

When the US military arrived at the IIP offices to escort her to the Green Zone, she was at first reluctant to go. But in a brief phone call the Monitor's staff writer Scott Peterson in Baghdad, he persuaded her that was the best and safest course of action.

Kidnappers in Iraq have tried to scare former hostages like this in the past. When Italian journalist Guiliana Sgrena was released by her captors in February last year, they told her there was a CIA threat to kill her, and that she should rush to the airport rather than go to the Green Zone. As her car sped down the airport road, at the time one of the most dangerous stretches of Iraq, the US military opened fire on the car, killing Nicola Calipari, the Italian intelligence agent who helped secure her release.

Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper said the kidnappers had phoned the US military with an anonymous tip and the cars description, warning that it was a car-bomb.

At the time of writing, Ms. Carroll is receiving medical attention in the Green Zone.

Fully in character to all those who know her, Jill has repeatedly expressed concern for Allan and his family, and all the friends and family who've been worrying about her through her ordeal - particularly her parents and her sister.

Staff writer Peter Grier contributed to this report from Washington and Awadh al-Taee contributed from Baghdad.