How a Virginia Businesswoman Escaped Her Kidnappers in Iraq — and Later Returned to Finish Her Work

They gave her a metal spoon. It was the first mistake her guards made. It would prove to be just enough to set her free.

For more than 40 days, Sara Miran had been held hostage by an Iranian-backed militia that operated with almost total impunity in post-Saddam Iraq. Miran, a real estate developer who lived in Virginia, was kidnapped while she was working in Iraq in September 2014. She was imprisoned in a locked, third-floor room of a house in a Baghdad neighborhood that served as one of the militia’s strongholds. The room had wood paneling and a marble floor; this had once been an elegant home, transformed into the militia’s prison.

Miran was certain the militia was going to kill her. Her captors forced her to wear a prison uniform, like the clothes the Islamic State group made its hostages wear just before they were executed. They had whipped her for five straight days with wire cables, trying to make her falsely confess to being a CIA spy. Her guards never showed their faces, and when she asked why, one of them said they would reveal themselves when she was about to be released. “Once I heard him say that, I knew they were going to kill me,” Miran told The Intercept. She knew they would never let her go if she could identify them.

She was desperate to escape. There were at least two guards in the house at all times, and they searched her room each day to make certain that she wasn’t plotting a breakout. They installed a surveillance camera in the room so they could monitor her movements 24 hours a day, watching even while she slept on a mattress on the floor.

Her captors fed her the bare minimum to keep her alive — a half piece of bread, some cheese, tea, a little soup — and she lost 30 pounds. With each meal, they brought her plastic spoons. But on a Sunday in October, her guards altered their routine. Instead of bread and cheese, they brought her a lunch of rice and curry. And along with the new meal came a metal spoon.

Miran hid the spoon in the tank of the toilet in the bathroom adjoining her room. Then she waited for the night.

At 9 p.m., she went into the bathroom and got the spoon. With years of experience as a manager of construction projects, she knew the weak points in building designs, and so she used the spoon to dig into the edges of the wall surrounding the…

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