Detained Iraqi officials released without charge

The 24 Iraqi officials arrested this week have been released without charge. Announced on Thursday, the arrests were first linked to an alleged coup attempt against Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (pictured) and later to charges of aiding terrorism.


AFP - The 24 Iraqi interior and defence ministry officers who were arrested this week on suspicion of aiding terrorism have been released without charge, the interior ministry said on Saturday.

"They have all been released and the allegations were dropped," Brigadier General Abdel Karim Khalaf told AFP, without saying when the release took place.

"They are patriotic officers. We will take action against the people who made the allegations against them," he said.

On Thursday, officials announced the arrest of several dozen people over an alleged plot against the government of Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Later a top general said only 24 interior and defence ministry personnel had been arrested, and stated that they were held on suspicion of aiding terrorism rather than of planning a coup.

On Friday, Interior Minister Jawad Bolani said the allegations against them were "fabricated and not based on any security fact or any intelligence information."

The incident happened, "because the ministry has limited the influence of certain political parties in the interior ministry and other ministries," he added without elaborating.

"The persons who want to do something to the interior ministry will find me standing in their way," Bolani said.

Announcing the arrests on Thursday, a security official had said the people held were "linked to the Al-Awda (The Return), a clandestine group that was working to bring the Baath party back into power."

Al-Awda first surfaced in June 2003, just three months after the launch of the US-led invasion that ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, and his feared Baathist regime.

It groups former members of the Baath party, Saddam's former elite Republican Guard and his security services, which were dismantled in the aftermath of the war.

News of the arrests came just days after a farewell visit to Iraq by US President George W. Bush, who met Maliki during his trip.

Maliki's critics reportedly accused the prime minister of arresting political enemies to consolidate his power ahead of provincial elections due to be held at the end of January.

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