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September 26, 2009

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109 Iraqi jailers held after mass breakout

MORE than 100 prison officials and guards have been detained after 16 prisoners, including five al-Qaida linked inmates awaiting execution, made a stunning jailbreak in Saddam Hussein's hometown.

The escape from the makeshift jail in Tikrit was the latest in a string of embarrassing security lapses in Iraq.

The entire 109 staff of the jail, including the provincial prison director, had been detained for questioning as part of the inquiry, Lieutenant Colonel Ahmed al-Fahal, director of the anti-riot department for Salahuddin provincial police, said yesterday.

He said six of the convicts, including three of the al-Qaida-linked inmates, had been arrested by late yesterday.

Security forces continued the manhunt for the remaining fugitives with the help of United States aerial surveillance.

Iraq's government, police and military have been under scrutiny since the pull back of US troops from Iraq's cities nearly three months ago.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has built his January re-election campaign on improved security, has been eager to show Iraq can handle things on its own.

The prison escape on Wednesday came just before midnight at a jail on the grounds of one of Saddam's former palaces in Tikrit, about 130 kilometers north of Baghdad.

The prisoners pried open a bathroom window with a pipe wrench to escape.

Al-Fahal said no one at the prison appeared to have actively aided in the escape, but stressed that "there was great negligence by the guards."

Meanwhile, Iraqi authorities were examining how a controlled explosion of weapons confiscated by the Iraqi military went awry yesterday, killing 15 Iraqi soldiers.


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