Baghdad: Iraq`s Prime Minister on Sunday said
that 615 people have been detained in a security sweep
targeting members of the former ruling Baath party.
Arrests on this scale are likely to alarm Sunni Arabs,
who consider use of the term "Baathists" by Iraq`s
Shiite-dominated government to be a coded way to refer to
Sunni politicians, army officers, and other prominent members
of their community.
Sunnis say that Baghdad sometimes uses crackdowns on
Baathists as a tool to exert political pressure. The arrests
coincide with a recent autonomy push by a mostly-Sunni
province in north-central Iraq, the latest bone of contention
between Sunni political blocs and the Baghdad government.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki revealed the size of the
sweep in comments released Saturday by the state-run Iraqiya
TV channel during which he defended the detentions.
He said officials had reason to believe the people
arrested were a threat to security but he gave no further
He did not say when the sweep took place, but a Ministry
of Interior statement on Thursday said about 500 people had
been arrested in recent days.
"The recent arrests, which were carried out by the
security forces and were based on information and evidence,
were aimed at those who threaten the state security and the
state stability. There were 615 detained people," al-Maliki
"The Baath Party is prohibited by the Constitution,
because it is a criminal party that led to the fall of the
national sovereignty and it targeted the Iraqi people through
the mass graves, chemical weapons," he said.