Suspected Baath Party affiliates arrested in Iraq

December 19, 2008|By Los Angeles Times

BAGHDAD -

The arrests of up to 24 police and Defense Ministry officials accused of aiding terrorists and belonging to the banned Baath Party of Saddam Hussein raised concerns that the government's crackdown was reminiscent of Hussein's regime.

They were announced just two weeks before Iraq is scheduled to take over responsibility for its security from the United States. A bilateral agreement calls for all U.S. combat troops to leave Iraqi urban areas by June 30 and the country by the end of 2011.

Western officials have described Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as deeply suspicious of a coup by Iraqi security officers.

"The operation was based on information about some officers facilitating terrorist activities and helping outlaws and the remnants of the vanquished [Baath Party] regime," said Maj. Gen. Qasim Atta, a spokesman for the Iraqi armed forces.

Interior Ministry officials initially said up to 35 police officers had been jailed, including as many as six generals. Later, an Iraqi army general said in a statement that 24 suspects had been detained, including some Defense Ministry officers.

Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul Kareem Khalaf said 23 policemen were in custody, after being arrested by his ministry's internal affairs directorate. They were thought to belong to the Baath Party's Al Awda branch, which has been accused of committing attacks in Baghdad since 2003.

Yassin Majid, an adviser to al-Maliki, said most of the suspects were from the traffic police and were suspected of providing car license plates and fake identity cards to terrorists and Baath members.

Some non-Shiite lawmakers said the arrests seemed political and criticized the government's actions.

"This reminds me of the old regime. ... First they were saying coup d'etat. ... It's not clear what is going on," said Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman. "I'm afraid this may have some political ends from the government, maybe from the prime minister."

Some parliament members compared the government's behavior to the late Hussein's authoritarian regime. Hussein's security apparatus had often rounded up political opponents on dubious charges.

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