Abductors release Sunni lawmaker

August 27, 2006|By Patrick J. McDonnell | Patrick J. McDonnell,Los Angeles Times

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraq's Shiite-led government, beset by sectarian violence, fuel shortages and rising prices, received a boost yesterday when kidnappers released a Sunni Arab lawmaker whose abduction nearly two months ago unleashed a political crisis.

Taiseer Mashhadani was freed unharmed after extensive pleas from the U.S.-backed administration of Nouri al-Maliki, who leads the ruling Shiite coalition.

"They were very polite and treated me well," Mashhadani told reporters. She said she had watched TV with her captors. "I never heard an insult from them."

An elated al-Maliki, who received Mashhadani at his office, called her release a "gift" as his government embarked on an ambitious campaign to reconcile Iraq's warring sects and factions.

"This is an important step and achievement for the reconciliation process," said the prime minister, who added that no ransom was paid. "This is a good start."

The case had frustrated the Shiite leadership and seemed to mock al-Maliki's assertions that he was committed to reaching out to minority Sunni Arabs, who dominated until the U.S.-engineered overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Disaffected Sunnis have formed the backbone of the insurgency that has battled U.S. troops and their Iraqi allies.

Mashhadani is a part of the Sunni Arab parliamentary minority whose participation is vital if Iraq is to have a government of "national unity," as the prime minister has vowed to implement. She represents the Iraqi Islamic Party, a major Sunni political grouping in the beleaguered, three-month-old government.

No organization took responsibility for the high-profile kidnapping, but many suspect the Shiite militias that have been suspected in the murders of hundreds of Sunnis here in recent weeks. That suspicion seemed to be confirmed some weeks ago when officials revealed that the alleged kidnappers had demanded the liberation of Shiite prisoners in exchange for the lawmaker's release.

Mashhadani and several bodyguards were seized July 1 by gunmen in a Shiite area of northern Baghdad as her entourage was traveling from Diyala province to attend a parliamentary session the next day. Three of her bodyguards were freed shortly afterward, and Mashhadani said she expects the release shortly of two others still being held.

Meanwhile, violence continued across Iraq yesterday.

Authorities found the bodies of 20 men dumped in various parts of the capital, some showing signs of torture, a police official said.

Gunmen in Baqouba attacked a Shiite family, killing two women and two children and wounding 11. Four Kurdish civilians were gunned down in Kirkuk, and gunmen killed three Shiite bakery workers in the largely Sunni city of Tikrit. In the south, assassins killed a translator and wounded another person as they left a British base in Basra.

Patrick J. McDonnell writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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