BAGHDAD, Iraq – American forces arrested 15 members of Saddam Hussein's banned Baath Party (search) as they met Saturday, an American official advising Iraq's Interior Ministry said.
The members of the group were arrested at the country's main police college, where they had been holding weekly meetings, Bernard Kerik (search), former New York City police chief, told reporters.
Kerik said a crowd of police officers standing outside the academy broke into applause as the party members were taken out in handcuffs.
"Evidently they knew this was going on," Kerik said of the police officers. "I believe they were afraid to come forward."
The 15 people arrested included the dean of the college, five brigadier generals and one major general. Fourteen were arrested for engaging in an illegal activity, and one for resisting arrest. Kerik said no shots were fired during the arrests.
Kerik did not detail how American forces got word about the meeting except to say that the news had come a few days earlier.
The Baath Party was one of Saddam's main tools of control during his decades in power, and was widely despised by common Iraqis.
Under Saddam, Baath party membership was required to attain top jobs in many professions, and many people with nominal support of Saddam and his regime also joined through the years.
U.S. Gen. Tommy Franks officially outlawed the Baath Party in early May. The new U.S. civilian administrator of Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, issued a decree saying that members of the party would not be allowed to participate in any new government.
Bremer has said a new government will not be in place until at least mid-July. However, the U.S.-led Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (search) -- the only civilian authority in Iraq at the moment -- appears to be evolving.
Its briefing Saturday, held at what has been known as ORHA headquarters, was billed as being given by OCPA -- a new acronym that stands for the Office of the Coalition Provisional Authority.
Asked about the name change, a spokesman said the term had existed for a while but he seemed unclear about why it was now being used publicly.