VIENNA, Austria -- The Iraqi government has begun a major purge of a rebellious army unit that attempted an uprising against President Saddam Hussein last week, arresting and executing as many as 150 soldiers and officers, say Iraqi opposition figures here and in London and Arab diplomats in Europe.
Opposition figures say Iraqi intelligence officials have also questioned hundreds of relatives of troops who served in the Ramadi region west of Baghdad and in the Anbar region, which stretches to the Syrian and Jordanian borders. These regions are BTC part of Anbar province, the stronghold of the tribe involved in the uprising.
The opposition figures who reported the purge emphasized that they were still gathering information. But they said that about 1,000 soldiers and officers from a Republican Guard army unit apparently took part in an unsuccessful rebellion, and that hundreds more may have been planning to join in.
The army units were mostly drawn from the Dulaimi clan, they said, and were largely motivated by a desire to avenge the execution in May of a Dulaimi air force general who was accused of having plotted to kill Mr. Hussein. The general's arrest was followed by a small purge of Dulaimi clansmen from senior positions in the army, but the opposition figures say that the purge has been broadened since the attempted uprising and that it is still under way.
Although the rebellion apparently had little chance of success, the confrontation with the Dulaimis is viewed by as a significant challenge to the government. The clan, which includes several hundred thousand Sunni Muslims, had been considered one of the government's most fervent supporters.
The uprising failed, the opposition figures said, because the troops did not get the support they had expected from other army units after they failed to seize a radio transmitter. Also, helicopter air support did not materialize when it became clear the government was aware of the conspiracy and began to send troops to stop it.
The rebellious troops also failed to reach a jail in Abu Ghraib, about 12 miles west of Baghdad, the capital. They had apparently hoped to release some 800 Dulaimi clansmen being held there for investigation and then move on to Baghdad.
The opposition officials said the plan was based on the hope that many more army units would rise to support the insubordinate units as word of the uprising spread.
The Iraqi government has steadfastly denied that any rebellion took place, but the investigations and arrests under way are on such a scale that there is little doubt Baghdad sees the rebellion as a major development.