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Iraqi government criticized over security failures | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Iraqi army soldiers stand guard at the Abu–Ghraib prison on the outskirts of Baghdad, Iraq. Sept. 2, 2006 file photo. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

Iraqi army soldiers stand guard at the Abu–Ghraib prison on the outskirts of Baghdad, Iraq. Sept. 2, 2006 file photo. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

Iraqi army soldiers stand guard at the Abu Ghraib prison on the outskirts of Baghdad, Iraq in this September 2, 2006, file photo. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—The escape of top Al-Qaeda commanders from two Baghdad prisons on Sunday evening has raised fears of a renewed terrorist campaign, placing pressure on Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki and his government, which has so far remained quiet on the issue.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) organization, which is affiliated to Al-Qaeda, has claimed responsibility for the attacks on Abu Ghraib and Al-Taji prisons. A statement attributed to the organization and published on the Hanein jihadist website said the operation came in response to a call by the leader of the organization, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, to “conclude the ‘destruction of walls’ plan, which started a year ago, with a sophisticated attack.” The organization announced that “hundreds of Muslim detainees, among them some 500 of the best fighters ever born, were freed.”

A senior security official told French news agency AFP that “dark days awaited Iraq, because the escapees included top Al-Qaeda commanders and the operation was carried out to free a specific group.” He said “the seniors among them managed to escape,” adding that “the escapees will carry out revenge operations, most of which may be suicide attacks.”

Hakem Al-Zameli, member of the parliamentary Security and Defense Committee, told AFP that “most of those who escaped from Abu Ghraib prison were top Al-Qaeda commanders and were sentenced to death.” He added that “he expected the terrorists to go to Syria to reorganize and return to Iraq to carry out terror attacks against Iraqis.”

The Iraqi government has adopted a hands-off policy regarding the escalating violence, with senior officials and official media sources ignoring these incidents or downplaying their significance. Following this week’s attacks on the two prisons, only one official statement was issued, an announcement from the Interior Ministry saying it was pursuing the fugitives.

Another member of the parliamentary Security and Defense Committee, Hassan Jihad, also a member of the Kurdistan Alliance Bloc, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “it was strange that Al-Qaeda announced its responsibility for the operation within 24 hours, and that it freed 500 prisoners—some of them leaders in the organization—while the authorities did not make a move, except pointing to a conspiracy involving some guards or the clashes between the army and the terrorists.”

Jihad said: “The government and its security services should have announced, clearly and transparently, the number of escapees to stop rumors where some people said 500 prisoners escaped, while others said 1,000. The announcement of the number by Al-Qaeda was disappointing when the government should have given the people the real number.”

He added: “Our information indicates that the number of escapees is the same as that announced on Monday and confirmed by Al-Qaeda on Tuesday.” Security sources have said 150 prisoners were killed in the attack on Al-Hout prison in Al-Taji.

In the meantime, the crisis management cell chaired by Nuri Al-Maliki, in his capacity as the commander of the Armed Forces, announced a blanket curfew in the Al-Taji, Abu Ghraib, Al-Tarmiyah and Al-Radwaniyah areas, which are predominantly Sunni, in order to pursue the fugitives. Following a meeting on Monday evening, the cell announced that there was evidence of collusion by some guards with the assailants.

Talal Al-Zawba’ai, Iraqi Alliance member of parliament for the areas included in the curfew, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “the policy of imposing a siege on unarmed people following every security failure has become a firm policy which punishes a specific constituent of society.”

He added that “pursuing terrorists is not conducted in this way, which only increases public resentment, because the siege has also included the disruption of water, transport and electricity services, and the siege of people in a way which stopped some reaching their own homes.”

Ammar Al-Hakim, leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) expressed surprise at the government’s silence at the repeated attacks on Iraqi prisons and the escape of hundreds of terrorists without providing any explanation. During a speech at a Ramadan evening event at his headquarters, Hakim said he had doubts whether there was a “clear and useful strategy to manage the security issue in Iraq effectively.”