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Iraqi Officials Arrested on Baath Party Suspicions

BY Admin  December 18, 2008 at 6:30 PM EDT

Iraqi security forces; File photo

The arrests were confirmed at a news conference, but spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf denied those arrested were planning a coup.

The accused are said to belong to al-Awda, “The Return,” a descendant of the Baath party, BBC News reported.

“Suggesting there is a coup going on in Iraq is like saying an ant is going out to arrest an elephant,” Khalaf told Reuters.

The Baath party was outlawed after the U.S. invasion in 2003, though being a member of the al-Awda is considered equivalent Khalaf said.

The New York Times reported that senior security officials in Baghdad told the paper that up to 35 officials in the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior have been arrested this week.

Those arrested include both Sunnis and Shiites, and high-ranking generals at the Interior Ministry, the Washington Post reported. At least 17 of those arrested were members of the traffic police, including the general who leads the department, unnamed officials told the paper.

Several unnamed officials from the ministries of the interior and national security told the New York Times that some of those arrested were indeed in the early stages of planning a coup.

The officials also told the paper Iraqi counterterrorism forces were involved in the arrests and that ministry forces said al-Awda members paid bribes to officers to recruit them.

Political tension is growing in Iraq ahead of local elections in January. With the U.S. plans to narrow its role in the country, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has sought to consolidate his power against rivals.

Rumors of coups and conspiracies have run rampant, but some politicians and analysts doubt that a coup was being planned for this time.

“There are obviously still people who are very disaffected by the current situation and the current regime, (but) I think it is very unlikely they would have any short-term plans to carry out a coup. There is no way they could succeed,” Joost Hiltermann, an analyst at the International Crisis Group, told Reuters.

The government’s policies against Baathists were partially reversed in January when a law was passed to allow the return of certain former Baathists to government posts.

The law was meant to help bring together factions driven apart by the de-Baathification policies instituted after the U.S. invasion. The U.S. disbanded the Iraqi army and removed all Baathists from government.