Crime soared during the US-led occupation as convicts, released by former president Saddam Hussein, roamed free and a violent insurgency sprung up.
"This is the largest operation for the interior ministry since the fall of Saddam Hussein," said Colonel Adnan Abd al-Rahman, the interior ministry's chief spokesman, referring to the coordinated raid on Monday afternoon.
"About 500 criminals were arrested, suspected of crimes such as stealing, murder, kidnapping and drug-selling," he said on Tuesday.
Pushed for more precise numbers, the spokesman said: "It was more than 525 but less than 550."
Some 500 Iraqi police carried out Monday's operation in the downtown district of Bab al-Shaikh as part of an interior ministry plan to crack down on professional gangs who have terrorised the neighbourhood, explained Abd al-Rahman.
Most of the people caught were
professional crooks, allege police
There was no help from US soldiers who maintain a heavy presence in the capital even after the so-called transfer of sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government a fortnight ago, the spokesman said.
The suspects, all Iraqis, were being held for questioning at a Baghdad police department, he said, noting that most were criminals who had been arrested during the old government and pardoned by Saddam Hussein on the eve of the US invasion.
"Most of the people we caught yesterday were professional crooks," he alleged.
Police colonel Daud Sulaiman, in charge of the hotspot patch, said one person was killed during the sweep.
"Several criminals, including women, were arrested and one of them was killed while trying to resist police," he said.
Kidnapping in particular has spiked in Iraq over the past 15 months, as common crooks, not linked to groups that have beheaded foreign captives for political reasons, snatch ordinary Iraqis for ransom.
"This is the largest operation for the interior ministry since the fall of Saddam Hussein"
Colonel Adnan Abd al-Rahman,
Interior Ministry spokesman
In the past week alone, Baghdad police have rescued four Iraqis, including an 11-year-old child, who had been kidnapped and held for money.
"One policeman was injured as well as two of the abductors while they were freeing the 11-year-old child," said Sulaiman, adding that the two suspects were under guard at a local hospital.
Colonel Sulaiman attributed the rise in theft, murder and abduction to the insecurity that arose during the US-led occupation.
But he also cited unemployment as a major factor. He said in Baghdad alone, the jobless rate among the young was close to 75%.
The large number of weapons stored in people's homes was another factor, the police chief added.