U.S. to free Iraqi women in exchange of release of American reporter

A U.S. Muslim advocacy group arrived in Baghdad on Saturday to plead for the release of American hostage Jill Carroll, while an Iraqi official urged U.S. forces to free detained Iraqi women in a bid to save the journalist. The deadline set by Carroll's kidnappers, who have threatened to kill her unless American forces release all Iraqi women in military custody, passed late Friday and no word has been heard on her fate. The 28-year-old was abducted Jan. 7 in a tough west Baghdad neighborhood.

A delegation from the Council on American-Islamic Relations flew to Baghdad from neighboring Jordan in a bid to drum up momentum for Carroll's release. "We are the only people who have come from outside of Iraq to call for Jill's release and we are very hopeful they will hear our message on behalf of American Muslims," the group's executive director, Nadi Awad, said at Baghdad International Airport. "Harming her will do them (the kidnappers) no good at all. The only way is to release her." Corey Saylor, government affairs director for the council, said Carroll "has a track record of being objective." "She has a track record of embracing Arabic culture and Islamic culture. We think that by releasing her this would be helpful to both the Iraqi people and American Muslims," Saylor said.

Also Saturday, Deputy Justice Minister Busho Ibrahim Ali said Iraqi authorities have asked U.S. authorities to release six of the nine Iraqi women and that he expected them to be freed Monday or Tuesday, although he stressed that the probable release was not part of a deal with the kidnappers.

"I am making some contacts with the American side to hasten their release because this action might help hastening the release of the kidnapped journalist," Ali told The Associated Press. U.S. officials have confirmed that they are holding nine Iraqi women detainees, but declined to comment on whether any were soon to be freed.

American policy is not to negotiate with kidnappers, but U.S. hostage situation specialists are chasing multiple leads, including talks with Sunni Arab politicians who may have links to the insurgency, to try secure Carroll's freedom.

Circumstances surrounding Carroll's abduction are murky, with the freelance reporter for the Christian Science Monitor newspaper being seen only in footage of her obtained and aired by Al-Jazeera TV station Tuesday, reports the AP. N.U.