Sunni politician calls to release American journalist

A top Sunni politician appealed Friday for the release of American journalist Jill Carroll and urged U.S. and Iraqi forces to stop arresting Iraqi women as a deadline set by the reporter's kidnappers was set to elapse. The kidnappers had threatened to kill Carroll, 28, unless all female detainees are freed by Friday. No hour was specified, and there was no indication that any prisoners had been released. In a statement aired Friday by two major Arab television stations, Carroll's father, Jim, described his daughter as "an innocent woman" and told the captors that sparing her life would "serve your cause more than her death."

A U.S. Embassy official said he was unaware of any contacts between a high-level hostage release team and the kidnappers. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case, said U.S. authorities were meeting with various figures including political leaders, particularly from the Sunni Arab community, who may have links to the kidnappers.

Carroll, a freelancer for the Christian Science Monitor, was abducted Jan. 7 near the office of prominent Sunni Arab politician Adnan al-Dulaimi, whom she was going to interview. Her translator was killed in the attack about 300 yards from al-Dulaimi's office.

On Friday, al-Dulaimi promised to work for the release of all female prisoners but warned that failure to set Carroll free would "undermine and hamper my efforts."

U.S. authorities have confirmed they are holding eight Iraqi women, and the Iraqi Justice Ministry has called for six of them to be set free. It was unclear how many women may be in Iraqi custody. "We are against violence by any group, and we call the government and U.S. forces to stop raiding houses, arresting women," al-Dulaimi said in a statement. "I call upon the kidnappers to immediately release this reporter who came here to cover Iraq's news and defending our rights."

"This act has hurt me and makes me sad because the journalist was trying to meet me when she was kidnapped," he said, adding that she was abducted

The Friday deadline was set in a tape received Tuesday by Al-Jazeera television from the previously unknown group called "Revenge Brigade." However, Iraqi kidnappers have often given such ultimatums only to ignore them and continue holding captives.

Kidnappers of Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, seized in Baghdad in February 2005, gave Italy 72 hours to withdraw its troops from Iraq. The Italians did not comply and Sgrena was released a month later unharmed.

A delegation from the Council on American-Islamic Relations flew to neighboring Jordan and planned to come to Baghdad to try to secure Carroll's release. But the group was still in Jordan on Friday because it had not received guarantees of a safe escort from Baghdad's airport into the city, the group's executive director, Nadi Awad, told The Associated Press.

French Muslim leaders and former hostages gathered in the Grand Mosque of Paris Friday to appeal for Carroll's release and urge the U.S. government to negotiate with her kidnappers.

"It is deeply revolting that an innocent life is threatened," said Dalil Boubakeur, head of the Grand Mosque of Paris and president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith. A spokesman for the Association of Muslim Scholars, an Iraqi Sunni clerical group that has contacts with some insurgent groups, said the organization could do little because it did not know who was holding her. Foreign diplomats have often sought help from the group in previous abductions, although it has never advocated kidnappings nor acknowledged playing any role in securing releases, reports the AP. N.U.