[JURIST] At least 23 employees of the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior [JURIST news archive] have been arrested this week for alleged attempts to rebuild Saddam Hussein's Baath party [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive], a ministry spokesman confirmed Thursday. Speaking at a press conference, Major-General Abdul Karim Khalaf said that the officials are being questioned for possible connections to the so-called al-Awda ("The Return") movement, the current incarnation of the defunct Baath party. Khalaf said that the officials are not presently accused of plotting a coup, contrary to an earlier report [NYT report]. Ministry public relations head Brigadier-General Alaa al-Taei confirmed that no coup plot has been alleged, but said there is evidence that the officials planned to burn down the ministry [Al Jazeera report]. Unnamed ministry sources also said that the arrested range from low-ranking officers to a traffic police brigadier general, and do not include four generals as initially rumored. Khalaf said the interrogations are being conducted under the supervision of the Iraqi judiciary.
The US-run Coalition Provisional Authority [official website] prioritized outlawing the Baath Party, and in 2003 Iraq established the De-Baathification Commission [official website] aimed at rooting out members of Hussein's party from positions of power in the Iraqi government. The Commission prompted the forced removal [JURIST report] of approximately 30,000 Baathists from public life. The Bush administration eventually urged the Iraqi government to shift the commission from outright prohibition to "accountability and reconciliation" in the interests of countering the growing insurgency in the country. De-Baathification reform legislation was praised [JURIST report] by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Earlier this year, Iraq adopted the controversial Accountability and Justice Law [JURIST report], which allows most former Baathists to be reinstated to public life.