But General Khalaf sought to discredit the most serious of the allegations made earlier by Iraqi officials, saying there was no evidence that the suspects were in the early stages of planning a coup against Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.
The conflicting accounts of the operation prompted an urgent question from Mr. Maliki's critics: Were the arrests politically motivated, carried out as a way for Mr. Maliki to weaken his rivals before the nationwide provincial elections planned for next month?
Suspicions were fueled by reports that a counterterrorism force overseen directly by Mr. Maliki was part of the operation, though several officials denied it.
Mahmoud Othman, an independent Kurdish lawmaker, said questions had been raised by the shifting accusations he and other Iraqi political leaders had heard in the past several days: that the detainees were planning a coup; that they belonged to Al Awda; and that they planned to burn down the ministry.
The above is from Campbell Robertson and Tareq Maher's "An Inquiry in Baghdad Is Clouded by Politics" (New York Times) and while I don't expect either to don a hair shirt their ability to finger point is amazing considering all the claims either now discredited or under question derive from their original reporting yesterday. In fairness to them, it may yet turn out the group was plotting a coup. But there was nothing to support that. One person (especially in power) whispering slanders doesn't make for sound journalism. They showed little to no skepticism and their report today completely contradicts yesterday's but there's no acknowledgment of that. Again, no hair shirt required, just a simple acknowledgment. For example, Tareq Maher's name was spelled wrongly by me yesterday as "Tariq." My apologies.
So today the New York Times tell us (at length) that the al-Maliki ordered arrests might have been politically motivated. Two other outlets weren't afraid to raise that possibility yesterday and didn't 'report' themselves into the corner the way the paper of record did.
Sudarsan Raghavan and Qais Mizher offer "Arrests in Iraq Seen as Politically Motivated" (Washington Post) which notes several MPs are raising the issue that the arrests were for political reasons, specifically "an attempt by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to demonstrate his power." They also note this basic fact, "On Thursday, senior government officials continued to provide contradictory explanations for the detentions." They note the various numbers given for the arrested (34, 23, 24) and they point out:
Maliki has steadily consolidated his power this year. In March, he ordered the military to combat Shiite militias and assert government control over the southern city of Basra, a goal that Iraqi forces accomplished with help from the U.S.-led coalition. Since then, Maliki has sought to tighten his grip across the country. His brokering of a U.S-Iraq security pact that requires the American forces to withdraw by the end of 2011 has bolstered his popularity among many Iraqis.
At the Los Angeles Times, Ned Parker teams up today with Saif Hameed for "Iraqi leaders deny coup attempts after arrests of 24 officers." [The two outlets that showed skepticism yesterday were the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. Yesterday Raghavan and Mizher reported on it as they do today while at LAT yesterday it was Parker with Ralman Salman.] Parker and Hameed note the varying numbers given for those arrested and do their best work covering reaction from lawmakers:
"This reminds me of the old regime. It's confusing. First they were saying coup d'etat. . . . It's not clear what is going on," said Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman. "I'm afraid this may have some political ends from the government, maybe from the prime minister."
Some legislators compared the government's behavior to that of Hussein's regime. Hussein's security apparatus had often rounded up political opponents on dubious charges. The lawmakers raised concern that the arrests were linked to the Shiite-led government's efforts to consolidate power.
Some Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish lawmakers have accused Maliki recently of harboring authoritarian ambitions, in a break from the power-sharing model championed by U.S. officials since 2003.
Sunni lawmaker Salim Abdullah Jabouri denounced the arrests.
"It wasn't to intimidate the Sunnis necessarily but rather to frighten the officers in the ministries of Interior and Defense so that they can be controlled and [to] make them anxious," Jabouri said. "It came suddenly and without any justifications or warnings."
Iraq's security apparatus has long been politicized and subject to influence by political parties. A U.S. official in Baghdad warned Wednesday that arrest warrants in Iraq came quite regularly from political pressure.
He goes on to state (the unnamed official) that this is the case with many members of the "Awakening" Councils being arrested. Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) covers just about everything in "Iraqi government plays down arrests of 23 police officers" and we'll note this section from it:
Some news reports said the officers were trying to organize a coup to unseat Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, but National Police Gen. Abdul Karim Khalaf dismissed that as an "unreal" possibility. He said Maliki has direct role in security, and it would be difficult for an officer to stage a coup.
"The situation on the ground won't allow them to make it," Khalaf told Iraqi television. "The coup is unreal because the officers are from low ranks and traffic police. They have no power . . . No unit can move from place to place without the order of Maliki."
Oliver August (Times of London) refers to the events as "a sectarian turf war" and notes:
The arrested officials include Sunni Muslims and some members of the opposition Constitution party. They were accused of being members of the banned Baath party and of plotting a coup. They denied the charges. The arrests were reportedly carried out by a military unit controlled by Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister, a member of the majority Shia community.
The power struggle exposed the deep sectarian faultlines in the Iraqi Government. It also dented the more positive impression of Iraq given by President Bush and Gordon Brown during their visits to the country.
[. . .]
A source in the ministry and a member of the Constitution party, told The Times: "This is a move against our party. They are trying to get all the Sunni officers out of the ministry. It's a political game, not a coup."
Meanwhile, next week finds al-Maliki scheduled to be out of Iraq -- visiting Iran and Turkey.
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