Hostage: The Jill Carroll Story - Part 8: A new enemy
Blind again under the black scarves – a now familiar routine after one and a half months in captivity – I was herded into a car, headed for yet another change of houses. I didn't know who the two men in the front seat were until I heard a voice I barely recognized, due to the speaker's exhaustion.Skip to next paragraph
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"Abu Rasha is very tired. It was a very busy day," said Abu Nour's No. 2, speaking in the third person, as night fell like its own black scarf on the world outside.
Abu Rasha was a large man, one of the organizers of my guards. His house in Baghdad – or what I took to be his house – was one of the first places I'd been taken after being kidnapped. I'd spent a lot of time in his presence. But I'd never encountered him in a state like this.
"Today was very, very bad," he said. "All day, driving here, and driving there, with the PKC and the RPG," he said, referring to Russian-made machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, which were among the insurgents' most common weapons. It had been a day of hard fighting. But they hadn't been confronting US or Iraqi soldiers. Today, they had had a different target: Shiites.
Two days earlier, on Feb. 22, an important Shiite mosque in Samarra, Iraq, had been blown up. Shiites had attacked Sunni mosques in retaliation – the result being a vicious cycle of attack-and-response that had altered the world of my Sunni Islamist kidnappers.
We arrived back at the place I called the "clubhouse," near Abu Ghraib, later that night. Slumped in a plastic chair in a room lit by the stark half-light of a fluorescent camping lantern, another mujahid told me their new bottom line.
"Aisha," he said, calling me by the Sunni nickname they'd given me, "now our No. 1 enemy are the Shias. Americans are No. 2."
As editor of the Monitor, Richard Bergenheim was the person who spoke to contacts who required special handling. That meant, for instance, that if FBI Director Robert Mueller called, he answered. And Mr. Mueller did call, early on, to ask if the Monitor was getting the help it needed.
It also meant that as the Jill Carroll hostage crisis dragged on, Mr. Bergenheim found himself at the center of the strange case of Daphne Barak and Sheikh Sattam Hamid Farhan al-Gaood (also spelled Gaaod). The Monitor was simply pursuing every lead, but this would be quite a rabbit hole.
On her website, Daphne Barak describes herself as "one of the few leading A-list interviewers in the world." An Israeli-American syndicated television journalist, her interviewees have included everyone from Hillary Clinton to members of pop star Michael Jackson's family.
Mr. Gaood, to some US officials, isn't so much a celebrity as he is notorious. "One of Saddam Hussein's most trusted confidants in conducting clandestine business transactions," according to the CIA's 2004 report on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The same report said Gaood was once the director of El Eman, the "largest network of Iraqi front companies" that smuggled oil out of Iraq and foodstuffs into Iraq in violation of the UN oil-for-food program, but "he has stated that he believed this to be legitimate business."
Sometime in late January, a source at a US television network told the Monitor that Ms. Barak was trying to sell an interview she'd conducted with Gaood – and that Gaood had mentioned helping get Jill Carroll out.
So Bergenheim called Barak. The story was true – or, at least, the part about the interview was.
Gaood had said, in an offhand way, that kidnapping was wrong, and Jill should be released. Pressed, he'd said something to the effect of, yes, he could arrange her freedom, he'd even use his own money, if needed – but so far, no one had asked him to.