Iraq's Maliki: al Qaida jailbreak attempt was inside job

BAGHDAD — A weekend attempted jailbreak at Iraq's Interior Ministry that led to the deaths of six police officers and 11 al Qaida in Iraq suspects involved inside "connivance and collaboration," Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki said Wednesday.

Investigators are trying to determine who smuggled grenades and other weapons to the prisoners for the effort, the second time in four months that al Qaida in Iraq operatives have infiltrated the police in a bid to free prisoners, Maliki said. The incident raised new questions about the competence of Iraq's security forces as U.S. troops prepare to withdraw completely from the country by the end of 2011.

"It was not as simple ... as it was pictured at the time," Maliki said of the ministry's official version, which said a prisoner had intercepted a ministry employee who was heading to the bathroom, grabbing his gun.

"There was connivance and collaboration. There was infiltration," he said at a news conference.

Last January, 12 detainees linked to al Qaida in Iraq escaped from a fortified prison in Basra. The Basra city council dismissed the police commander, but he said the blame lay not with his forces but with the military intelligence service.

Because of the political stalemate since last year's national elections, Maliki is serving as both the commander in chief of the armed forces and the minister in charge of all security ministries, including the Interior Ministry.

On Wednesday, Maliki charged his main political rival, Ayad Allawi, with obstructionism for not yet agreeing to Maliki's choices for the top security jobs. Allawi's supporters won more seats in parliament during last year's elections, but he agreed to allow Maliki to stay on as prime minister in exchange for a key security role. But to date, he and Maliki have been unable to agree on the extent of that role.

The attempted jailbreak late Saturday undercut the triumph Baghdad police had last year in arresting nearly the entire Baghdad cell of al Qaida in Iraq in the aftermath of an October attack on a church that left 68 people dead.

The prison uprising apparently began when Abu Huthaifa Battawi, the accused organizer of the church attack and the "wali," or ruler, of Iraq's al Qaida affiliate, was taken without handcuffs to an interrogation room in the highly fortified Interior Ministry compound.

Maliki said the version of the incident that Maj. Gen. Dheya Hussein, the general director of the Interior Ministry's anti-terrorism squad, offered Sunday was incorrect and that a full investigation was needed.

"How did weapons enter the prison? Grenades entered also. Who got them in?" the prime minister said. He called it a "shame that such a thing could happen."

(Hammoudi is a McClatchy special correspondent. Special correspondent Sahar Issa contributed to this report.)


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