/ 18 December 2008

Iraqi officials ‘held over coup plot’

Iraq has arrested about 50 interior ministry officials for plotting a coup against the Shi’ite-led government, a senior Iraqi security official said on Thursday.

”Fifty interior ministry civil servants, including senior officials, were arrested over the past three days for trying to topple the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Among those seized was General Ahmad Abul Rif, the ministry’s security chief, he said.

”They were linked to the Al-Awda [The Return], a clandestine group that was working to bring the Baath Party back into power,” he said.

Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and his Baath Party were ousted in the US-led invasion of March 2003.

The New York Times reported that a top interior ministry official said those arrested with Al-Awda links had paid bribes to be recruited and arresting officers had found substantial amounts of money in raids.

Maliki’s critics have accused the prime minister of arresting political enemies to consolidate his power ahead of next month’s provincial elections, the newspaper said.

Maliki himself was persecuted by Saddam’s Sunni-led regime, but five years after the invasion hundreds of members of the executed dictator’s former Baath party have returned to public life in Iraq.

Earlier this year Iraq’s presidential council approved a Bill allowing former Baath Party members to return to government jobs as part of the current Shi’ite-led administration.

The initiative was seen as a way to unite Iraqi factions, and a means to reverse what is widely seen as one of the huge blunders committed by US post-Saddam.

The initial US decision to disband the Iraqi army and sack all Baathists from the government to eradicate Saddam’s influence led to the rise of a deadly anti-American insurgency in the aftermath of the invasion. — AFP