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Iraqi Prison Breaks Likely Inside Jobs

On September 27, 2012, prisoners at the Tasfirat prison in Tikrit seized weapons after breaking into a storage room, overpowered guards and engaged in a gun battle with security forces during an escape attempt.

The late evening incident, which lasted several hours, left 16 guards dead. Four prisoners also were killed and at least 32 people were injured, including both guards and prisoners. Government officials said they had regained control of the facility by the following morning.

“Everything is under control now. Our security forces are chasing the escaped prisoners and have already recaptured some,” said Mohammed al-Assi, a spokesman for Salahuddin province, which includes Tikrit.

Over 100 prisoners escaped, including 47 with links to Al-Qaeda who had been sentenced to death. A curfew was imposed in the city and 23 of the escapees were quickly captured.
A local official, Hakim al-Zamili, opined that the prison break was an inside job.

“This incident shows that Iraqi security troops are still unable to control the situation and that they are still being infiltrated by terrorists,” he stated.

Iraq’s Interior Ministry later issued a statement that confirmed there was “clear collusion” between prisoners and prison staff. Prior to the escape, “[t]he cells were not searched for a long period, which indicates more deliberate negligence that led to this incident,” according to the statement.

The police chief for Salahuddin province was fired following the escape.
Previously, on September 1, 2011, Iraqi authorities reported that 35 prisoners tunneled their way out of a jail in Al-Faisaliyah in central Mosul. The prisoners were mostly Al-Qaeda members; U.S. military troops assisted in the search for the escapees, and 21 were recaptured.

The prisoners used metal plates and iron bars to dig nearly 150 feet out of the jail, according to a senior officer in the Mosul police department who did not want to be identified because he was not authorized to speak about the escape. He acknowledged that investigators were checking whether the prisoners had received inside help.

“It’s really early to decide whether there is collusion, but we have to admit that there is great negligence and every-body should be questioned about it,” he said. To that end, all employees at the facility were detained.

Kurdish lawmaker Mohammed Taha blamed security forces for the Mosul escape. “We have to admit that the insurgents control the situation and they have the initiative,” he stated.

The incidents in Tikrit and Mosul are just two examples of numerous jail breaks and violent disturbances at prisons across Iraq. On August 6, 2011, four prisoners and a guard were killed during an escape attempt at a facility in Hillah [see: PLN, Nov. 2011, p.50], while eleven prisoners and six police officers died during a disturbance at a Baghdad jail in May 2011.

Sources: McClatchy-Tribune,,

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