19 dec. 2008

35 Iraq Officials Held in Raids on Key Ministry


Up to 35 officials in the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior ranking as high as general have been arrested over the past three days with some of them accused of quietly working to reconstitute Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, according to senior security officials in Baghdad.
The arrests, confirmed by officials from the Ministries of the Interior and National Security as well as the prime minister’s office, included four generals. The officials also said that the arrests had come at the hand of an elite counterterrorism force that reports directly to the office of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.
The arrests reflect a new set of political challenges for Iraq. Mr. Maliki, who has gained popularity as a strong leader but has few reliable political allies, has scrambled to protect himself from domestic rivals as the domineering influence of the United States, his leading backer, begins to fade.
Rumors of coups, conspiracies and new alliances abound in the Iraqi capital a month before provincial elections. Critics of Mr. Maliki say he has been using arrests to consolidate power.
But senior security officials said there was significant evidence tying those arrested to a wide array of political corruption charges, including affiliation with Al Awda, or the Return, a descendant of the Baath Party, which ruled the country as a dictatorship for 35 years, mostly under Mr. Hussein. Tens of thousands of Iraqis died or were persecuted, including Mr. Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, by the Baath Party. It was outlawed after the American invasion in 2003.
While most members of the Baath Party were Sunni Muslims, as Mr. Hussein was, those arrested were a mix of Sunnis and Shiites, several officials said. It was unclear precisely how many Interior Ministry officials were detained.
While most members of the Baath Party were Sunni Muslims, as Mr. Hussein was, those arrested were a mix of Sunnis and Shiites, several officials said. It was unclear precisely how many Interior Ministry officials were detained.

A high-ranking Interior Ministry official said that those affiliated with Al Awda had paid bribes to other officers to recruit them and that huge amounts of money had been found in raids.

He said there could be more arrests. Some of those under arrest belonged to the now-illegal party under Mr. Hussein’s government. Mr. Maliki’s office declined to comment. But one of his advisers, insisting that he not be named because he was not authorized to speak, said the detainees were involved in “a conspiracy.”

The Ministry of the Interior is dedicated to Iraq’s internal security, and includes the police forces. The ministry has a history of being heavily infiltrated with Shiite militias, though it has improved considerably over the past two years.

A police officer, who knows several of the detainees but spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said they were innocent, longstanding civil servants and had little in common with one another. Those who once belonged to the Baath Party were lower-level members, he said, insisting that the arrests were politically motivated.

Interior Minister Jawad Kadem al-Bolani, who has not been implicated and is out of the country, has his own political ambitions and has been expanding his secular Iraqi Constitutional Party. Iraq is a nation where leadership has often changed by coup, and as next month’s provincial elections approach, worry about violence is increasing. So are accusations about politically charged detentions.