On May 8, 2011 there was a prison revolt in Baghdad led by Al Qaeda in Iraq members. The attempted escape failed, but it’s since been revealed that the insurgents had help from members of the security forces. At the same time, there is a controversy brewing that members of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s office assisted Al Qaeda operatives to successfully flee from a prison in Basra back in January. Both events show that the Islamists have agents working throughout Iraq’s government.
On May 7, there was an attempted prison break from a facility attached to Iraq’s Interior Ministry building in Baghdad. The prisoners started their revolt at 10 pm, and fought security forces for six and a half hours. Al Qaeda in Iraq’s governor of Baghdad Huthaifa al-Batawi, who was the mastermind of the October 2010 attack upon a Christian church in Baghdad that killed 68, was the leader. The detainees started their escape by attacking a guard that was taking them to the bathroom. They then went to the offices of General Mohammad Saleh, who was the counterterrorism chief of Baghdad’s Karrada district, and shot and killed him. They then waited and shot all the officers that came out to see what was going on. Three detainees seized a car, and tried to drive out of the prison, but were shot and killed. The prisoners eventually took over part of the facility, and fought off the guards and security forces until they were overwhelmed around 4:30 am. In the end, six guards, General Saleh and two other high ranking officers, along with Batawi and ten other Al Qaeda members were killed.
Originally, the press reported that the detainees had seized guns and grenades from the guards, but it was later revealed that Al Qaeda used sources within the security forces to smuggle them into the prison. Al Qaeda’s umbrella organization, the Islamic State of Iraq, claimed on the internet that it snuck in guns, explosives, and tools into the facility weeks before the revolt. They were also able to deliver messages to Batawi, and work out plans for the escape. The Islamists wanted to free up to 200 of their followers, and probably planned to kill the general and others as well. A government investigation pointed to members of the Interior Ministry helping out Al Qaeda, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said as much in a talk with the media.
The Baghdad prison break came on top of revelations that officials in Maliki’s own office might have assisted in a successful escape from a Basra prison in January. On January 12, twelve Al Qaeda members slipped out of a prison within the Basra Presidential Palace. One of them was Majid Abdul Aziz, thought to be Al Qaeda’s commander for southern Iraq. An investigation initially blamed members of an intelligence group working within the palace for assisting the insurgents. Some of the officers of the unit were arrested as a result. It was also thought that senior government officials in Baghdad were also involved. At the end of March, Abu Ali al-Basri, the director of the security bureau in the prime minister's office was called before parliament for questioning about the incident. By May, the news broke that a judge who was a relative of Maliki issued an order to dismiss an arrest warrant for Basri. A news agency then found a letter from the premier ordering an end to the investigation of Basri. Basri’s brother Abu Ammar al-Basri was also implicated. A parliamentarian that was on a committee looking into the matter told the press that there were phone records and other documents linking Basri to the escape. Another committee member said that political parties had tried to influence their investigation as well. If the other claims are to be believed, that was most likely Maliki’s State of Law. There were other stories that Basri fled the country after these accusations became public.
The Basra and Baghdad escapes are just one more example that militants have infiltrated every level of the Iraqi government. The police, intelligence agencies, Interior Ministry, and the prime minister’s office have all been implicated in these two incidents. They come on top of other earlier breakouts that involved the security forces, along with the current assassination campaign against public employees that obviously has official assistance. There could be all kinds of reasons behind this help. There might be insurgent spies within the bureaucracy or those sympathetic to the Islamists’ cause, while others may simply be taking bribes or giving into threats. Whatever the motivation, they point to the staying power and influence of the insurgency despite all their losses in recent years. It also highlights the frailty of the security apparatus and government, which has been unable to stamp out this infiltration.
All Iraq News, “Maliki’s Security Adviser Escapes After Revealing His Involvement In Al Qaeda Prisoners Smuggled To Iran,” 5/14/11
Aswat al-Iraq, “Iraqi MP accuses Prime Minister Maliki’s office with involvement in escape of terrorist prisoners in Basra,” 5/15/11
- "Iraqi Prime Minister's Security Director & Advisor, summoned by parliament," 3/28/11
Gutman, Roy and Hammoudi, Laith, “Iraq’s Maliki: al Qaida jailbreak attempt was inside job,” McClatchy Newspapers, 5/11/11
Hammoudi, Laith, “Gun battle inside Iraq’s Interior Ministry leaves 17 dead,” McClatchy Newspapers, 5/8/11
Healy, Jack, “Officers and Inmates Are Killed in Iraq Jail Revolt,” New York Times, 5/8/11
Jakes, Lara, “Militants claim slipping guns to prison inmates for weeks before attempted Baghdad escape,” Associated Press, 5/12/11
Latif, Nizar, “Escaped Iraqi al Qa’eda prisoners ‘had inside help,’” The National, 1/19/11
Salaheddin, Sinan, “Baghdad unsuccessful prison break had inside help, Iraqi interior ministry says,” Associated Press, 5/17/11
Al-Shemmari, Yazn, “Political Pressure on Basra Prison Break Investigation,” AK News, 5/16/11
Al-Zaman, Mutakbal, “Demonstrations In Iraq: Al-Maliki Most Corrupt in History of Iraq,” MEMRI Blog, 5/16/11
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