Iraqi authorities on Friday freed most of the approximately two dozen security officers detained this week for allegedly aiding insurgents and remnants of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, two Interior Ministry officials said.
At least 22 of the officers were released and the rest should be let go by this morning, the officials said. The detainees were freed after Interior Minister Jawad Bolani returned to Baghdad from abroad and challenged the charges, said the officials, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
The Associated Press later reported that Bolani had confirmed the release.
The case provided a window into the intense political differences in Iraq even among Shiite Muslims. Although some Shiite lawmakers and security commanders said they thought the accused men might have helped facilitate terrorist attacks, they rejected reports that the group had been hatching a coup attempt -- a grave worry among the ruling Shiite coalition.
The arrests also raised fears among some lawmakers that the government of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki was using authoritarian tactics reminiscent of Hussein’s regime to reinforce its power and thwart rivals.
Shortly after his arrival home, Bolani convened a news conference and denounced the arrests.
“This story . . . is a fabricated one,” Bolani said of the allegations against the men. “It is not based on any facts, security or intelligence.”
The stern words by Bolani also underscored the strains within the country’s ruling Shiite elite, who rarely air their dirty laundry.
“This is for political reasons,” he told The Times. “You know the country is approaching provincial elections, so there is a relation to the political process.”
Bolani has his own movement, the Iraqi Constitutional Party, which is running against Maliki’s Islamic Dawa Party and its coalition partner the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council in provincial contests in the Shiite-dominated south.
Bolani asked reporters: “Who in this entire world would believe that those who establish legal and constitutional institutions and who are in charge of maintaining the traffic in the streets are in charge of an action that violates the state’s security? This is in fact a lie that the public must be informed about.”
Bolani said the roots of the case had been a police investigation of an alleged plot to attack the Interior Ministry. But Maliki ordered a governmental committee to take over the investigation and it sought the arrest warrants, said Ahmed abu Ragheef, the ministry’s director of internal affairs.
“We were investigating about it, and then suddenly a very high-level committee was established by the prime minister and they took [responsibility for] the investigation,” Abu Ragheef told The Times. “We were done investigating with them.”
The detentions were carried out by Bolani’s internal affairs unit, which was obligated to act on a judicial order issued after the committee released its finding, Abu Ragheef said.
Elsewhere in the capital Friday, a senior leader in Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr’s populist movement was arrested at home in a U.S.-Iraqi military raid, the group announced. Sayed Fareed Fadhili, the detainee, is the head of the Sadr loyalists’ new social and religious organization, Mumahidoon, which is supposed to absorb most of the fighters from a militia loyal to the cleric.
Separately, the U.S. military announced that it had arrested an Iraqi national in northeast Baghdad who allegedly was working for Iranian intelligence agencies.
Also in northeast Baghdad, nine decaying bodies were found in an abandoned building in the Ur neighborhood, police said. The area saw heavy fighting in 2006 and 2007.