Iraqi Officials Arrested for Working to Rebuild Saddam’s Party

By VOA News
Iraq’s Interior Ministry says 23 government officials have been arrested in recent days for working to rebuild the outlawed Baath party of former leader Saddam Hussein.

A ministry spokesman says those arrested belong to al Awda, or the Return, which is considered a descendent of the Baath party. He denied a report in The New York Times newspaper that those arrested were involved in planning a coup.

Those arrested include officials from Iraq’s interior and defense ministries.

In other news, Pentagon officials say top military officials have briefed President-elect Barack Obama’s national security team on a plan to withdraw thousands of troops from Iraq early next year.

A Pentagon spokesman did not say whether the plans match that of Mr. Obama who wants all U.S. forces out of Iraq in 16 months.

In a television interview on Wednesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said thousands of U.S. forces could remain in Iraq, after 2011 – the withdrawal date mandated by a recently approved security agreement with Iraq. Gates said the troops would serve in a “very different role” than in the last five years.

Also Friday, South Korean forces completed their withdrawal from Iraq and returned home. Several hundred troops had been helping with reconstruction efforts in the country.

Separately, officials in Iraq’s Nineveh province voted on Thursday to request a six-month delay in provincial elections, in order to allow some 45,000 displaced families to return to their homes before the January 31 vote. Thousands of Christians have fled their homes in the northern city of Mosul, after being attacked. Some are now returning home.

Earlier this month, an official in Diyala province requested elections there be delayed because of poor security.