BAGHDAD, Iraq – Hundreds of Iraq's tribal chiefs Saturday signed a "pact of honor," pledging to support the prime minister's national reconciliation plan on wiping out sectarian strife and terrorism tearing the country.
In another boost for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's efforts, a Sunni lawmaker was released nearly two months after she was abducted in an attack that had stoked sectarian tensions and led to a boycott by the minority in parliament.
At least 23 people were killed Saturday, including four members of a Shiite family in Baqouba and a female translator working for the British consulate in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city.
"Realizing 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 sheiks 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 honor," 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 toward winning support in this divided nation for al-Maliki's 24-point reconciliation plan unveiled in June.
"These tribes have to play a significant role in fighting terrorists, saboteurs and infiltrators," Al-Maliki said in a speech to open the chiefs' conference earlier Saturday.
Al-Mashhadani, who was seized July 1 by gunmen in a Shiite area of north Baghdad as she was traveling from nearby Diyala province to attend a parliament session, said she was treated well in captivity.
"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 the prime minister. Looking relaxed and smiling, she was wearing a black Islamic robe, white headscarf, and she still had her gold wedding band.
Al-Maliki said there was no security operation to secure her release.
"She was 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."
Al-Mashhadani said she and five of her bodyguards were ambushed by men who were dressed in plainclothes. Three of her bodyguards were released shortly after her kidnapping, she said. Two remain with the kidnappers, who promised that the bodyguards "will be released soon after their questioning is over," she said.
Al-Maliki's aide, Yassin Majeed, said the prime minister had been "personally negotiating her release."
"After his efforts paid off, he sent people to collect her," Majeed said. "She was dropped off at his house," which is located close to his office in the fortified Green Zone.
Al-Majeed would not say where she was picked up from, except that it was inside Baghdad. He said no ransom was paid.
No group claimed responsibility publicly for the kidnapping, but officials said a group alleging to hold her demanded the release of Shiite detainees. The demand appeared to confirm Sunni suspicions that she was taken by a Shiite militia, in one of many recent attacks aiming to stoke sectarian tension.
Her party launched a campaign for her release that involved an emotional prime-time advertisement that was broadcast on their television station, Baghdad Television. The largest Sunni bloc in parliament also briefly boycotted legislative proceedings to urge stepped up efforts for her release.
After a lull in the violence on Friday, the Muslim Sabbath, killings were reported across Iraq on Saturday.
In Sunni-dominated Baqouba, north of Baghdad, gunmen in two speeding cars opened fire on a Shiite family moving out of the area after being threatened, killing four people and wounding two, police said.
Suspected Shiite militants 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 militia called The Associated Press to claim responsibility for the attack on "agents who work for the British forces."
In other violence:
— A roadside bomb exploded during a soccer match in Balad Ruz near Baqouba, killing four people and wounding 20.
— Gunmen shot to death the Shiite owner of a bakery and a policeman in separate attacks in western Baghdad.
— A roadside bomb missed a police patrol but killed one civilian south of Baghdad.
— Another roadside bomb near in Sadiyah 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 Mahdi Army militiamen and gunmen in Mahmoudiya left three dead.
— Gunmen killed two people near Karmah.