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Iraq Arrests Alleged Coup Plotters

A senior Iraqi security official say as many as 50 Interior Ministry officials have been arrested during the past three days for allegedly "trying to topple the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki." But some reports say many of those arrested were traffic police involved in corruption.

Several officials in Iraq's Interior Ministry have reportedly been arrested for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

One high-level Interior Ministry official put the number of arrests at around 50, but ministry spokesman General Abdul-Karim Khalaf said only 23 officers had been arrested, all in the traffic division.

Infighting between political factions in the Interior Ministry appears to be fueling the inconsistent reports. One ministry official claimed those arrested belong to the underground Sunni "Al-Awdah" group, which wants to revive the outlawed "Ba'ath" Party of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein.

Parliament Member Abbas Bayati of the United Iraqi Alliance Party, told Al-Arabiya TV that talk of a coup was exaggerated, but investigators had uncovered and arrested an underground cell of around 30 to 35 officers in the Interior Ministry.

Ba'ath party was outlawed in April 2003

Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party controlled Iraq briefly in 1963, and again from 1968 until it was overthrown by the U.S.-led invasion in April 2003. The party was outlawed during the initial U.S.-run Iraqi administration under Ambassador Paul Bremer and thousands of Ba'ath Party civil servants were purged from the government.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and his three-member Presidential Council reversed that decision earlier this year, allowing many former Ba'ath Party members to reclaim their old jobs.

Were those arrested plotting coup?

Professor Paul Salem, who heads the Beirut-based Carnegie Center for Peace in the Middle East, thinks it is somewhat implausible those arrested were plotting a coup.

"I mean, the idea of trying to stage a coup, today, in Baghdad is unrealistic, given the presence of U.S. forces, and the dominance they have there. It is not as if you walk into some office in Baghdad and you remove a prime minister or another official and you can command the country," said Salem.

Salem also thinks political positioning before January's provincial elections could have something to do with the announcement of an alleged coup.

"Iraq, today, is a hot-bed of different political factions, each with their own armed groups and militias. Many of these militias are in the government in various branches of the security forces, both in the army and in the police and in some of the paramilitary and irregular groups. It is kind of a free for all, to some degree, and there is so much infighting and so much back-biting, both within communities and across communities, and unfortunately it is a rampant pattern in politics in Iraq, today," said Salem.

Some analysts think Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is trying to burnish his image as a statesman, after losing some popular support during the parliamentary debate to approve the new U.S.-Iraqi military pact.