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An Irish reporter who was abducted by Shiite extremists in Baghdad but freed after a 36-hour ordeal said Friday he had feared the prospect of several months in captivity, or a beheading.
Rory Carroll, a correspondent for The Guardian newspaper of Britain, told Ireland's RTE state broadcasters he owed his speedy salvation to Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, who brokered a deal for his release.
Carroll, 33, said Chalabi informed him that his Irish nationality might have saved his life. He said the gang who took him had wanted a Briton, who would be used to barter for the release of Shiite extremists jailed by British forces in the southeast Iraqi city of Basra.
Carroll said about a half-dozen gunmen in three cars blocked his own driver's vehicle as it left an interview Wednesday in Sadr City, a Shiite stronghold in Baghdad. He said the attackers pistol-whipped his driver, beat up his interpreter and handcuffed him and bundled him into a car trunk.
Carroll said the abductors drove to a waste ground about 15 minutes away, forced him to replace his clothes with "something more Iraqi-looking," switched cars, then took him to a family's home. There they locked him in a narrow concrete passageway under a staircase, furnished only with a rug and pillow.
Once there, Carroll said he was treated well, given access to a toilet and a shower and a few meals. He described his main guard, an armed man in his late 30s who was the father of the family, as "very polite and courteous" who also allowed him out for meals involving cheese, jam and sweet tea.
"He was like an over-attentive waiter. It was quite strange," Carroll said.
"I had been bracing myself for several grisly outcomes: I could be in this cell for weeks, possibly months ... well into 2006, and I was trying to mentally brace myself for that.
"I was also afraid that I would be handed over to another gang which would have bought me from the original gang. This other gang could turn out to be an insurgent group who in the past had beheaded Western hostages for propaganda purposes. That was my main concern."
But on Thursday night, Carroll said he heard a cell phone ring, then the sound of his captor laughing with relief. The passageway door was unlocked and Carroll was told he was being freed.
"I was skeptical. I thought this was too good to be true," he said.
He gained confidence when his cuffs were removed as he was put into a car trunk. After a drive, when the trunk was opened again, several Iraqi police were outside. His captor was not arrested.
"Obviously a deal had been struck where he would not be molested by the police, he would be allowed to disappear," Carroll said.
The police took him to one of Chalabi's properties, where the deputy premier was waiting.
"I had been trying without success for months and months to get an interview with Ahmad Chalabi, so I just couldn't it believe it when the deputy prime minister was there to greet me," Carroll said.
Carroll said he planned to travel home soon to Blackrock, a suburb of Dublin, to see his family, but was not certain yet whether he would keep reporting from Baghdad, where he has been based since January.