BAGHDAD — A senior spokesman at the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior confirmed publicly on Thursday that 23 of its officials had been arrested in recent days under suspicion of being affiliated with a banned political party related to Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party. The ministry, in a statement, also said the scope of the investigation was wider than originally reported, with officials in other security ministries also arrested.
But while the spokesman for the Interior Ministry, Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, confirmed the arrests at a news conference, he denied those arrested were involved in planning a coup.
According to senior security officials in Baghdad who revealed the arrests earlier this week, up to 35 officials in the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior ranking as high as general have been detained this week.
The arrests, according to those officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, included at least three generals. The officials also said that the arrests had come at the hand of an elite counterterrorism force that reports directly to the office of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.
The possible involvement of the counterterrorism unit would speak to the seriousness of the accusations, and several officials from the Ministries of the Interior and National Security said that some of those arrested were in the early stages of planning a coup.
None of the officials provided details about that allegation.But the arrests reflect a new set of political challenges for Iraq. Mr. Maliki, who has gained popularity as a strong leader but has few reliable political allies, has scrambled to protect himself from domestic rivals as the domineering influence of the United States, his leading backer, begins to fade.