Prison raids and bombings are only the latest in a wave of violence that has swept throughout Iraq in the past four months killing more than 300 people and further weakening the Baghdad government’s hold on the country. Since the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began on July 10, the attacks have intensified and occur on a nearly daily basis.
An al Qaeda group claimed responsibility Tuesday [23rd July] for coordinated attacks on two Iraqi prisons that a lawmaker said freed more than 500 inmates, including some senior members of the militant group. The attacks occurred Sunday night at Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad, and al-Taji prison, north of the capital. At least 21 inmates and at least eight prison guards were killed, the Iraqi Justice Ministry said, while 25 inmates and 14 guards were wounded.
Mortar fire and suicide bombs were used to gain access to the jails, whose inmates include al-Qaeda prisoners. Most of them were senior members of al-Qaeda who had been sentenced to death, he told Reuters news agency:
“It’s obviously a terrorist attack carried out by al-Qaeda to free convicted terrorists with al-Qaeda,” the agency quoted an unnamed security official as saying.
Abu Ghraib was used to torture opponents of the regime during Saddam Hussein’s rule, and its infamy increased in 2004 when photographs were published showing detainees being abused by US guards.
On Tuesday, an al-Qaeda affiliate calling itself the ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’ said it carried out the attacks on the prisons. The group, which was formed of al-Qaeda groups in Iraq and Syria, said it had spent “months planning” the attacks on Abu Ghraib to the west of the capital and Taji to the north.
Justice ministry spokesman Wissam al-Firaiji earlier said the attackers, whom he called terrorists, had been well-armed. “The attack against Taji jail alone was carried out by nine suicide bombers and three car bombs driven by suicide bombers,” he told reporters. “The attackers also lobbed more than 100 mortar shells,” he said, adding that the inmates were “under control” again.