The Islamic State of Iraq escapees included its Minister of Justice, Minister of Finance, a judge, and another whose position is unknown. All four were captured by American forces in Mosul in 2008, and been held for 15 months. Also conspicuously absent from work the next day were the camp’s warden and several guards. Some Iraqi sources told the Los Angeles Times that they were investigating whether the warden drove the Islamic State prisoners out of the camp in his car. The warden was appointed by the U.S., and kept on the job after the prison was turned over to the Iraqis.
Karkh Prison is located in a heavily guarded area of Baghdad with dozens of checkpoints, and is the site of the U.S. military command in Iraq. The story was kept secret by Iraqi authorities for two days before finally being aired on television.
The escapes are an obvious embarrassment to the Iraqi government and a setback in the fight against Al Qaeda. In the beginning of June 2010 the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq General Ray Odierno claimed that 34 of Al Qaeda’s top 42 leaders had been killed or captured, marking a devastating blow to the organization. Every week there are more stories of Al Qaeda elements being rounded up. Now four top members have escaped. That also points to the insurgency’s ability to infiltrate the government and security forces because the missing prisoners obviously had inside help to get out of such a heavily guarded area of the capitol. In June, over 30 policemen, including an officer, were arrested in Diyala for ties to Al Qaeda. There is also suspicion that Al Qaeda worked with members of the government to attack the Central Bank of Iraq last month as well. While the Islamist group is obviously a shell of its former self, these operations and escapes point to its continued ability to not only operate in Iraq, but to curry favor with some in positions of authority.
Agence France Presse, “Escaped Iraq detainees are Qaeda suspects: police,” 7/23/10
Parker, Ned, “U.S. Hands over last prison to Iraqi control,” Los Angeles Times, 7/15/10
Parker, Ned and Redha, Usama, “Four Iraqis escape from prison at Baghdad airport compound,” Los Angeles Times, 7/23/10
Shanker, Thom, “Qaeda Leaders in Iraq Neutralized, U.S. Says,” New York Times, 6/4/10
Williams, Timothy and Al-Jawoshy, Omar, “Top Insurgents Escaped Prison Days After Iraq Took Over,” New York Times, 7/23/10