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.
At least 14 people were killed Saturday, including four members of a Shiite family in Baqouba and a woman 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.
In other developments: Kidnapped Sunni lawmaker Tayseer al-Mashhadani was released Saturday after being held for nearly two months, an adviser to the prime minister and a senior official from her party said. Al-Mashhadani and seven of her bodyguards were seized July 1 by gunmen in a Shiite area of east Baghdad as they were traveling from nearby Diyala province to attend a parliament session the following day. Gunmen in a speeding car opened fire on two sisters walking in Iraq's second-largest city today. Iraqi police say one woman was killed in the Basra attack, the other seriously wounded. They both worked as translators for the British consulate. A man claiming to represent a Shiite militia has since called The Associated Press to take responsibility for the attack. He referred to the women as "agents" for British forces. A roadside bomb exploded Saturday in a soccer field during a match in Balad Ruz near Baqouba, killing four people and wounding 20. Friday, gunmen shot and killed three people at a bakery in Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad. And, the deputy director of a major government hospital and his wife were shot to death in Baghdad. Republican Sen. John McCain said Friday he supports the U.S. mission in Iraq, days after faulting the Bush administration for misleading Americans into believing it would be "some kind of day at the beach." McCain said in a statement Friday: "I have never intended my concern that the American people be fully informed about the conduct and consequences of the war to indicate any lessening of my support for our mission there." Thursday, top U.S. commanders expressed confidence that their deployment of 12,000 U.S. and Iraqi soldiers to Baghdad would stem sectarian violence. "I believe there is a danger of civil war in Iraq, but only a danger. I think Iraq's far from it," Abizaid said. Referring to the violence in Baghdad, Casey said: "I think everybody has seen an improvement in the situation in Baghdad over the last weeks because of the operations of the Iraqi security forces supported by the American Army."
Although the pact is unlikely to bring peace to Iraq, it is an important step toward winning support in this divided nation for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's 24-point reconciliation plan unveiled last month.
Al-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," Al-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 militias are controlled by legislators themselves.
There is also the question of how to deal with insurgents from the minority Sunni Arab community who hope to regain the power they held in the Sunni-dominated regime of Saddam Hussein.
Al-Maliki and his fellow Shiites say amnesty can be given to insurgents who have not killed any Iraqi. But given the widespread killings in Iraq, it would be hard to find a militant who does not have blood on his hands. Differences among Shiites themselves is another hurdle.
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