x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Over 20 Iraqi ministers detained

Twenty-three officers from Iraq's Interior Ministry have been arrested on suspicion of trying to rebuild former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's Baath party.

BAGHDAD // Twenty-three officers from Iraq's Interior Ministry have been arrested on suspicion of trying to rebuild former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's Baath party, a ministry spokesman said today. Maj Gen Abdul Karim Khalaf said the officers were arrested under suspicion of being part of the al Awda ("Return") party, seen as a new incarnation of the once omnipotent Baath party that was outlawed following the 2003 US-led invasion. "They are now being interrogated under the supervision of the Iraqi judiciary," Maj Gen Khalaf said. He said being a member of al-Awda was equivalent to being a Baath member. The New York Times reported today that an elite counterterrorism force, reporting directly to the prime minister Nuri al Maliki, arrested up to 35 officials, some of whom were accused of plotting a coup against the government. Asked whether those arrested were suspected of plotting a coup, Mr Khalaf repeated they were suspected of being members of the al Awda party. He said no special forces were involved in the arrest of the officials, who ranked as high as brigadier general. Brig Gen Alaa al Taei, the ministry's head of public relations, said those arrested were not accused of plotting a coup, but instead were suspected of planning to burn down the ministry, possibly to destroy evidence against them. Fears of a coup are partly fed by growing assertiveness from Mr Maliki, a Shiite Arab politician who heads a fragile and often fractious coalition government including Sunni Arabs and Kurds. Mr Maliki has sought to consolidate his power as violence drops and the United States begins to narrow its role in Iraq and some rivals resent or are suspicious about his growing stature. Political tension is sharpening ahead of local elections in January that will be a proving ground for rival factions. US officials say that Iraq's Interior Ministry is making strides in purging corrupt officials and militia members that once controlled the ministry, but note that politically motivated arrests still occur even within the ministry. Earlier reports put the number of arrested as high as 50. * Reuters