Did a Sunni politician set Jill Carroll up – or pay $1.5 million to free her?

Jill Carroll says her kidnapping was set up by Adnan al-Dulaimi or someone in his Baghdad office. Mr. Dulaimi met with her chief captor at least twice during her captivity, and the Sunni politician pleaded for Ms. Carroll's freedom, according to her captors.

"Dulaimi himself personally knew Abu Nour," recalls Carroll. "He met with [the insurgent leader] several times, and begged him to let me go."

Dulaimi – one of the most influential Sunni politicians in the US-backed Iraqi government – denies ever meeting Carroll's kidnappers. In fact, he now claims to have paid a ransom for her release. But when he is pressed with questions about her abduction, a nervous tick comes to life in his left cheek.

Carroll was taken, and interpreter Alan Enwiya was shot dead, just 100 yards from Dulaimi's office, when the Iraqi politician failed to show up for a prearranged Jan. 7 interview.

"It was very highly organized," says Adnan Abbas, Carroll's driver, who was shot at but managed to escape. "It was a setup, a perfect ambush."

Establishing who engineered Mr. Enwiya's murder and Carroll's kidnapping – and what finally prompted her safe release – may prove impossible amid the bloody sectarian and insurgent politics that have defined Iraq this year.

Since that day in January, Dulaimi – who wears a trademark black sedarat hat once favored by Iraq's monarchy-era administrators – has protested his innocence and claimed the kidnappers wanted to undermine him politically.

But his version of events – including initially denying he had any appointment to meet with Carroll – has changed over time, in multiple meetings with the Monitor during and after her captivity, and in public statements.

Dulaimi now claims that he alone secured Carroll's release by secretly paying a $1.5 million ransom. It is one ransom claim among many others that have surfaced from inside and outside Iraq since Carroll's release.

Monitor editors and the Carroll family say they have seen no evidence that money changed hands to buy Carroll's freedom.

Early in her captivity, Carroll's kidnappers told her that they hoped to gain the release of "four or five" female Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison – and Carroll's first and second videos broadcast on Al Jazeera in January called for their freedom.

"It was clear that money wasn't the central issue," says Carroll, who overheard her captors making that point among themselves. But sometimes, especially during the first month, she did hear money discussed. When US officials stated their refusal to bargain over women detainees, the kidnappers told Carroll they would demand $10 million from the newspaper or her family "because we can't just let you go for nothing."

"After one month [of captivity]," recalls Carroll, "it wasn't clear what they wanted or who they were talking to, or when, and who was lying to me about what."

Dulaimi made similar requests to release prisoners. Once during a meeting with the Monitor he brandished a list of 1,000 male detainees he wanted freed, saying their release would "help" bolster his own efforts. He also made several tearful and high-profile calls for Carroll's release.

Why is he claiming to have paid a ransom now?

"I refused to talk [publicly at the time] because I wanted success – any mistakes would lead to [Carroll] being killed," said Dulaimi, during a recent meeting in the heavily fortified Green Zone, between sessions of parliament. Knowledge that he paid is "not in the public interest. It puts me in danger.

"I swear I paid," added Dulaimi, noting that he informed US Embassy staff in Baghdad. "I challenge anyone to say I [didn't] pay.... The proof is just me. Either it's my proof, or I am lying."

"That's crazy," says a US investigator familiar with the case. "[Dulaimi] did nothing to assist us to get Jill back.... When push came to shove, he did nothing." One US Embassy official in Baghdad says he does not believe Dulaimi was involved, either directly with Carroll's kidnapping, or in her release.

Dulaimi did permit some of his office guards and staff to be questioned by agents of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation. But those sessions yielded answers that often contradicted reporting by Western news agencies on the day of the incident. The French news agency AFP quoted an office guard saying he heard gunshots "a short distance away and rushed to find the body of a slain man." The Associated Press quoted guard Samir Najim describing details of the incident 100 yards from Dulaimi's office.

Dulaimi told the Monitor that his staff was unaware that the incident took place on his street. His staff said the same thing to the FBI. He also denied that any guard called Najim worked for him.

"Dulaimi would not [orchestrate the kidnapping], because he was waiting for a presidential posting, and this would have very bad side effects," says a senior Iraqi police officer. "But someone did this behind his wheels."

Still, one theory is that Dulaimi may have signed off on a brief kidnapping, to perhaps regain some credibility with Sunni extremists – or someone in his office set it up – only for events to then spin out of his control. Carroll was told at first that she would only be held for a week.

But Carroll's captors frequently ridiculed Dulaimi and other Sunni leaders in government, when they appeared on television news. Dulaimi is deemed a traitor by Sunni insurgents, for turning his Iraqi Accordance Front into the most powerful Sunni bloc in Parliament.

"Dulaimi's not good.... We won't ever deal with him," Carroll recalls Abu Nour telling her. "Maybe his sons one day...."

Dulaimi denies ever knowing Abu Nour's nom de guerre Abdullah Rashid al-Baghdadi, much less meeting with the militant chief. He says he heard the name for the first time when the Monitor raised it during a late-June interview.

Abdullah Rashid has issued statements saying he leads the Mujahideen Shura Council, a Sunni umbrella group for the most extreme jihadist groups, including Al Qaeda in Iraq, which formed in mid-January.

Dulaimi further claims he had no link with the kidnappers until weeks before Carroll's release, when an Iraqi journalist working for Al Rai television in Kuwait interviewed him in March about the abduction.

Al Rai had received and broadcast the third and final public Carroll video on Feb. 9. Shortly after the March Al-Rai interview, Dulaimi says he was contacted by an intermediary, called a bayi. Dulaimi says he met once with the bayi – the root word in Arabic means "salesman" – who "does not know any information" about Carroll's captors.

Dulaimi claims he paid $500,000 the morning Carroll was released. It was a "sacrifice" he was willing to make, he says; subsequent payments completed in late June brought the total to $1.5 million – half the initial $3 million demand.

"I have to pay them because I gave a promise and should keep the promise, for security for myself, because no one can prevent them from doing any bad thing," says Dulaimi, of the apparent blackmail. "I paid them because they can do anything."

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