Rebels Said to Find Al Qathafi Tie in Plot Against Iraq
(NY Times) - When Tripoli, the Libyan capital, fell, rebel fighters found secret intelligence documents linking Col. Muammar Al Qathafi to a plot by former members of Saddam Hussein’s military and Baath Party to overthrow the Iraqi government, according to an Iraqi official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The details of the plot were revealed to Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, this month in a surprise visit to Baghdad by Libya’s interim leader, Mahmoud Jibril, said the official, who demanded anonymity because the matter was supposed to be confidential. This week, Iraqi security forces responded, arresting more than 200 suspects in connection with the plot.
The looted ruins of Colonel Al Qathafi’s intelligence headquarters in Tripoli have revealed many secrets. The trove has uncovered ties between the Libyan strongman and the CIA and shed light on negotiations between Chinese arms dealers and Libyan officials during the course of the uprising, an embarrassment to officials in Beijing.
But here in Iraq, the records of Colonel Al Qathafi’s plot had special resonance. The Iraqi news media celebrated Colonel Al Qathafi’s death last week.
But the news that the colonel may have been backing a Baathist-led coup added another layer of intrigue just as Iraq was digesting the weekend news that President Obama had announced that the last American soldier would leave by the end of the year. Some suggested that it was a fiction spread only to allow for the arrests of Sunnis, a reflection of the fragile sectarian tensions.
“The people that were arrested do not deserve this, because many of them were old,” said Hamid al-Mutlaq, a member of Parliament’s security committee from the Iraqiya bloc, which is largely Sunni. “The timing for this is bad because the U.S. forces are about to leave, and we should focus on national reconciliation.”
On state television, Hussein Kamal, Iraq’s deputy interior minister, said the plot included agitators spread throughout the country’s south and just north of Baghdad, and had been planning “terrorist operations and sabotage” after the withdrawal of the United States military.
In Iraq, the memories of the Baath Party maintain a psychic hold on the population, even almost nine years after the American invasion that drove the party from power.
The Americans disbanded the army and barred most party members from any government job, a decision that many said contributed to the subsequent insurgency and sectarian civil war.
Before last year’s parliamentary elections, a de-Baathification process eliminated many more people from the political process, often based on flimsy evidence. And in Iraq’s zero-sum politics, opponents often accuse one another of being “Baathies,” the worst kind of insult here.
Rumours of coups often swirl through the capital, with evidence of the latest intrigue often seen in tanks taking up new positions in the fortified Green Zone.
Predictably, the latest uncovered plot prompted suspicion in some circles that the arrests were intended to score political points by playing to the vestiges of people’s fears from living under Mr. Hussein’s brutality.
Because the Baath Party was dominated by Sunnis, and ruled ruthlessly over a Shiite majority for decades, the term today also carries sectarian undertones, as was seen Tuesday in Tikrit, Mr. Hussein’s hometown in Salahuddin Province, north of Baghdad.
There, protesters denounced the arrests outside the provincial council building. “We are out today in peaceful protest to ask the government to stop arresting the sons of Iraq,” said Sheik Hussain al-Alusi.
He added, “We are happy that the Americans are leaving, but the government is taking advantage of that. Where is the national reconciliation? Where is the Constitution?”
In the southern port city of Basra, where 40 people were arrested, according to Reuters, former low-level Baath Party members feared they would be next.
“Frankly, I am very scared and I expect arrest at any moment,” said Hassan Abu Faleh, a government worker who said he had signed a pledge in 2003 renouncing the Baath Party. “The current practices are the same as what Saddam did.”