Iraq tribal chiefs sign ‘pact of honour’ to support unity as Sunni Arab MP released

news5_27.jpgBAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Maliki won important support Saturday for his national unity plan from hundreds of tribal chiefs, and from the release of a leading Sunni Arab lawmaker returned by her captors as a gift to his project.

But the killing of 26 people around Iraq indicated that an end to the sectarian and political strife tearing the country was still distant.

Tayseer Mashhadani was freed Saturday after being held for nearly two months, in what Maliki described as a “gift” from her kidnappers.

Mashhadani was seized July 1 by gunmen in a Shiite area of north Baghdad as she was travelling from nearby Diyala province to attend a parliament session the following day.

“They were treating me well. I used to watch television and follow the news. I used to talk to them and they kept telling me to ‘be patient,”  she said after meeting Maliki less than two hours after her release.

Looking relaxed and smiling, she was wearing a black Islamic robe, white headscarf, and she still had her gold wedding band.

“I encourage them to indulge in the reconciliation. I took their e-mail and they took mine so we can indulge in a dialogue,” she said of her kidnappers.

Maliki said there was no security operation to secure her release.

“She was a turned in as a gift for the reconciliation project,” he told reporters. “This is an important step and achievement for the reconciliation process, this is a good start.” Hundreds of Iraq’s tribal chiefs signed a “pact of honour,” pledging to support Maliki’s plan.

“Realising the gravity of the situation our country is undergoing, we pledge in front of God and the Iraqi people to be sincere and serious in preserving the unity of our country,” said the pact signed by tribal leaders and sheikhs at a national conference.

The chiefs also pledged to “work hard to stop the bloodletting and… sectarian killings that have nothing to do with our values.” A representative read out the agreement, which he described as a “pact of honour,” on live television.

Tribes wield considerable influence in Iraqi society, especially among rural people for whom bonds of the clan are vital. But like all other institutions in Iraq, tribal affiliations sometimes can also be tenuous.

Although the pact is unlikely to bring peace to Iraq, it is an important step towards winning support in this divided nation for Maliki’s 24-point reconciliation plan that was unveiled last month.

Maliki’s Shiite-dominated unity government is struggling to control the sectarian violence and a Sunni Arab insurgency that have together claimed about 10,000 lives since it took office in May.

“These tribes have to play a significant role in fighting terrorists, saboteurs and infiltrators,” Maliki said in a speech to open the chiefs’ conference earlier Saturday.

But reconciliation seems a distant goal as none of the major Sunni Arab insurgent groups has publicly agreed to join the plan. Also, many of the Shiite factions are controlled by legislators themselves.

The parliament speaker, a Sunni Arab, said he was optimistic after the meeting but did not think violence would decrease.

“Violence in Iraq will not go down, it is a complicated case and there are many elements inside and outside Iraq effect this case, but the meeting today is very important.

“We cannot eliminate the violence completely. Still we are optimistic,” Mahmoud Mashhadani said.

After a lull in the violence on Friday, the Muslim Sabbath, killings were reported from various places across Iraq on Saturday.

 — In Sunni-dominated Baqouba, north of Baghdad, gunmen in two speeding cars opened fire at a Shiite family, killing two women and two children, and injuring 10, Baqouba police said. They said the family were moving out of the area after receiving threats.

— Gunmen killed four traffic policemen in Hawija, 240 kilometres north of Baghdad, in a drive by-shooting.

— Suspected Shiites in a car fired at two sisters working as translators for the British consulate in Basra in the south, killing one of them and seriously wounding the other, local police said. A man claiming to represent a known Shiite group called the Associated Press to claim responsibility for the attack on “agents who work for the British forces.”

— A roadside bomb exploded in a football field during a match in Balad Ruz near Baqouba, killing four people and wounding 20.

— Gunmen shot dead the Shiite owner of a bakery and a policeman in separate incidents in western Baghdad.

— A roadside bomb missed a police patrol but killed one civilian south of Baghdad.

— Another roadside bomb near an abandoned house in Saadiya, 50 kilometres north of Baghdad, killed two civilians and wounded three.

— A parked car bomb exploded near a Shiite mosque south of Baghdad, killing three people.

— Gunmen killed a youth in his house in the northern city of Mosul.

— Clashes between the Mehdi Army and unknown gunmen in Mahmoudiyah town left three dead.

— Gunmen killed two people near Karmah town, 80 kilometres west of Baghdad.

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