Hundreds of al Qaeda Militants Freed in Iraq Jailbreak

As many as 500 convicted al Qaeda terrorists were released Sunday night as part of a surge of violence that has killed thousands since April.

As many as 500 convicted al Qaeda terrorists were released Sunday night as part of a surge of violence that has killed thousands since April.

AP (“Deadly Iraq Prison Raids Free Hundreds of Inmates, Al-Qaida Militants“):

Iraqi security forces locked down areas around the infamous Abu Ghraib prison and another high-security detention facility on Baghdad’s outskirts Monday to hunt for escaped inmates and militants after daring insurgent assaults set hundreds of detainees free.

The carefully orchestrated late-night attacks killed dozens Sunday, including at least 25 members of the Iraqi security forces. Insurgents fired dozens of mortar shells and detonated suicide and car bombs, drawing Iraqi forces into firefights that lasted more than an hour.

Attacks elsewhere claimed at least 18 more lives on Monday, many of them soldiers, highlighting the rapidly deteriorating security conditions across Iraq.

The prisons in Abu Ghraib and Taji house thousands of prisoners, including convicted al-Qaida militants. Exactly one year ago, al-Qaida’s Iraq arm launched a campaign called “Breaking the Walls” that made freeing its imprisoned members a top priority.

A surge of violence across Iraq has killed more than 3,000 people since the start of April, and the assaults on the prisons laid bare the degree to which security has eroded in the country in recent months. The spike in bloodshed is intensifying fears of a return to the widespread sectarian killing that pushed the country to the brink of civil war after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Several officials, including lawmakers on parliament’s security and defense committee, said more than 500 inmates managed to escape from Abu Ghraib. There were no immediate reports of escapes from Taji.

Authorities imposed curfews around both prisons as manhunts got under way. Guards at Taji appeared visibly on edge Monday, with rifles at the ready and wary police warning motorists not to idle even briefly nearby.

“This big security failure shows that the top security commanders have failed to sort out any solutions for the ongoing security deterioration,” said Shawan Mohammed Taha, one of the lawmakers who confirmed the escapes. “The terrorists, not the security forces, are now taking the initiative.”

Reuters (“Al Qaeda militants flee Iraq jail in violent mass break-out“):

Hundreds of convicts, including senior members of al Qaeda, broke out of Iraq’s Abu Ghraib jail as comrades launched a military-style assault to free them, authorities said on Monday.

The deadly raid on the high-security jail happened as Sunni Muslim militants are gaining momentum in their insurgency against the Shi’ite-led government that came to power after the U.S. invasion to oust Saddam Hussein.

Suicide bombers drove cars packed with explosives to the gates of the prison on the outskirts of Baghdad on Sunday night and blasted their way into the compound, while gunmen attacked guards with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.

Other militants took up positions near the main road, fighting off security reinforcements sent from Baghdad as several militants wearing suicide vests entered the prison on foot to help free the inmates.

Ten policemen and four militants were killed in the ensuing clashes, which continued until Monday morning, when military helicopters arrived, helping to regain control.

By that time, hundreds of inmates had succeeded in fleeing Abu Ghraib, the prison made notorious a decade ago by photographs showing abuse of prisoners by U.S. soldiers.

“The number of escaped inmates has reached 500, most of them were convicted senior members of al Qaeda and had received death sentences,” Hakim Al-Zamili, a senior member of the security and defense committee in parliament, told Reuters. “The security forces arrested some of them, but the rest are still free.”

John McCain, among others, has been insistent in getting those up for confirmation for major national security posts to answer the question: Did the Iraq Surge succeed. Considering that it’s purpose was “unified, democratic federal Iraq that can govern itself, defend itself, and sustain itself, and is an ally in the War on Terror” and “to help Iraqis clear and secure neighborhoods, to help them protect the local population, and to help ensure that the Iraqi forces left behind are capable of providing the security,” the question would seem to answer itself.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, Quick Takes, Terrorism
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Moosebreath says:

    An answer like that would lead to McCain putting a hold on the nomination.

  2. Snarky Bastard says:

    It succeeded in kicking the can far enough down the road to lay the blame on someone else — so yes

  3. Rob in CT says:

    The point was basically “peace with honor.” We could leave and pretend we’d won (or at least that we hadn’t lost).