BAGHDAD, Iraq – Kidnapped Sunni Arab lawmaker Tayseer al-Mashhadani was released Saturday after being held for nearly two months, and the prime minister described her release as a "gift" on the day he launched his project for national reconciliation.
Al-Mashhadani and five bodyguards were seized July 1 by gunmen in a Shiite area of north Baghdad as they were traveling 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," al-Mashhadani said after meeting with Prime Minister al-Maliki less than two hours after her release.
Looking relaxed and smiling, she said of her captors: "I encouraged them to indulge in the reconciliation. I took their e-mail and they took mine so we can indulge in a dialogue."
Al-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."
Earlier in the day, al-Maliki met for the first time with hundreds of tribal sheiks — both Sunni and Shiite — as part of his campaign to end Iraq's sectarian violence and the Sunni-led insurgency.
Al-Mashhadani said she was ambushed by men in civilian clothes. Three of her bodyguards were released shortly afterward, she said. Two remain with the kidnappers, who promised they "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" but no ransom was paid.
"After his efforts paid off, he sent people to collect her," Majeed said. "She was dropped off at his house," which is close to his office in the fortified Green Zone.
Majeed would not say where the legislator was picked up, except that it was in Baghdad.
No group took responsibility publicly for the kidnapping, but officials announced after her abduction that a group claiming to hold her demanded the release of Shiite detainees.
The demand appeared to confirm Sunni suspicions that she was taken by a Shiite Muslim militia in one of many recent attacks aimed at stoking sectarian tension.
Many Sunnis initially blamed rebel Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia, but the organization denied any involvement.
Al-Mashhadani's party had conducted a campaign for her release using an emotional spot broadcast on their TV station, Baghdad Television.
The ad included a photo of al-Mashhadani clad in a white headscarf juxtaposed over footage of her sons, 2 and 3. Sitting next to her mother, her father says a prayer. Then, the phrase "Be patient, mother, for relief is near" appears on the screen.