Iraq arrests 22 police after prison escape

2012-03-24 22:46

Kirkuk - Iraq on Saturday detained 22 policemen and guards employed at a temporary prison in the northern oil-rich city of Kirkuk after 19 inmates - most of them facing terrorism charges - escaped.

The prisoners fled the jail, based inside a fortified police compound in central Kirkuk, early on Friday, removing the ventilator in a bathroom and using blankets to escape through the opening.

"We have detained 22 police officers and employees who are in charge of the prison. They are under investigation," Major General Jamal Tahir, the police chief in Kirkuk province, told a news conference.

"We have increased the number of guard posts at the prison and the search is on for the escapees. Their pictures were handed out to police patrols and a reward will be given to those who provide information leading to the arrest of the escapees."

Tahir said one of the prisoners had been captured by Kurdish Asaish security forces in Arbil, in the autonomous northern Kurdish region, and handed back to Kirkuk police.

"Clearly there is negligence, how could 19 prisoners escape?" Deputy Interior Minister Adnan al-Asadi said. "Eleven of them are charged with terrorist activities."

Prison breaks are not uncommon in Iraq.

Last September, 35 prisoners facing terrorism charges escaped via a sewage pipe from a temporary jail in the northern city of Mosul, an al-Qaeda stronghold. Iraqi police were able to recapture 21 escapees.

Kirkuk, whose population is a volatile mix of Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and others, is at the heart of a long dispute between Iraq's central government and the autonomous Kurdish region, which lays claim to the city and its rich oil reserves.

Violence has subsided dramatically in Iraq since the height of sectarian warfare in 2006-07, but shootings, bombings and other attacks still occur daily.