The Abu Ghraib prison, now renamed Baghdad Central Prison and run by Iraqis in Baghdad, was the target of attacks by militants who freed their allies through attacks using car bombs, mortars and machine guns, officials said.
According to Reuters, senior members of Al Qaeda escaped during the attack.
Suicide bombers drove cars packed with explosives to the gates of the prison on the outskirts of Baghdad on Sunday night and blasted their way into the compound, while gunmen attacked guards with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. Other militants took up positions near the main road, fighting off security reinforcements sent from Baghdad as several militants wearing suicide vests entered the prison on foot to help free the inmates.
Jane Arraf with Al Jazeera International and Christian Science Monitor was in Baghdad as the events unfolded.
There were signs attacks on the jails were coming.
Exactly one year ago, al Qaeda's Iraq arm launched a campaign called "Breaking the Walls" that made freeing its imprisoned members a top priority, the Associated Press reports:
A surge of violence across Iraq has killed more than 3,000 people since the start of April, and the assaults on the prisons laid bare the degree to which security has eroded in the country in recent months. The spike in bloodshed is intensifying fears of a return to the widespread sectarian killing that pushed the country to the brink of civil war after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
There are questions about the events that preceded the attack as well.
Investigations are underway about how the attacks were orchestrated. Officials believe there was help from the inside.
From the AP:
So many prisoners were able to get away from Abu Ghraib because they were in the prison yard for the communal iftar meal that ends the daylong fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, said a senior intelligence official and two other government officials. They also confirmed the number of escaped inmates and said an investigation has now been launched into who ordered the open-air Ramadan feast.
Adrian Carrasquillo is the White House correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Adrian Carrasquillo at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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