Another Iraqi jail escape pegged as inside job

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 8, 2011 

BAGHDAD — Iraqi authorities have detained the warden of a prison in the city of Hilla and one of his assistants for collusion in an escape attempt Friday.

It was the latest in at least a dozen prison breaks that have involved prison authorities cooperating with insurgent groups to free prisoners.

Five prisoners escaped from the Hilla jail; four of them were arrested later, Hilla police sources said.

Three prisoners and one guard were killed and four prisoners and four guards were wounded in clashes that lasted more than four hours as part of the escape plan.

"The incident was very well planned, there is a clear collusion and negligence by the guards of the jail. An iron saw, police uniform and a faked pistol which looks like a pistol with silencer had been passed to the prisoners" said Eskander Witwit , a lawmaker from Hilla and the deputy chairman of the security and defense committee in Iraq's parliament .

Witwit said he was at the prison when the escape attempt began at about 10:40 p.m. when four prisoners dressed in police uniforms stormed into a guard station and seized four guns and one machine gun. They opened fire on the guards and began helping prisoners to escape.

Police and security forces from elsewhere in the city quickly converged on the prison as the escape attempt unfolded and surrounded the building. Security was reestablished at about 2:30 a.m. Saturday.

Witwit said the quick response from outside the prison prevented the incident from spiraling out of control. "There are 1,275 prisoners in the Hilla prison, many of them serving life sentences," he said.

Witwit declined to provide details of the warden's involvement in the case, except to say that some visitors were allowed to enter the prison without undergoing routine security checks. The identity of the prisoner still at large was not released.

The most notorious of the attempted prison escapes took place May 7 when six policemen, including three high-ranking officers, and 11 prisoners were killed in a six-hour gun battle inside the fortified compound of the Ministry of the Interior in Baghdad. Officials said the violence was an effort to spring an al Qaida in Iraq leader believed responsible for an October massacre inside a Baghdad church. The leader was killed in the melee.

(Hammoudi is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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