Arbil, Asharq al-Awsat- A senior Iraqi security source described the security breach that occurred in a counter-terrorism prison at the Interior Ministry compound in Rusafa, Baghdad, last week, as the “most serious so far”. He placed responsibility for the incident on the security agencies affiliated with the Ministry of Interior, and also blamed them for the security breach which happened last month at the council of Salah al-Din province in Tikrit, the province of former Iraqi Prime Minister Saddam Hussein. This incident led to the deaths of nearly 60 people, including members of the provincial council.
The source, a senior officer in the Iraqi army, met Asharq Al-Awsat in Arbil yesterday, and said “intelligence information was available to the security services, whether from the military or the police, suggesting that there would be a major operation carried out by an al-Qaeda offshoot, to rescue their detained leaders in the counter-terrorism prison in Rusafa. However, the [security services] did not take any serious action. The prison is located in the Interior Ministry compound, and this is considered more fortified than the Green Zone. This raises our surprise and doubts, and it is our belief that there was collusion in the implementation of this dangerous operation, which reveals the weakness of the security services”.
During an attempted escape from a prison in central Baghdad last week, eight policemen were killed, including four officers, in addition to ten prisoners affiliated to al-Qaeda, some of whom plotted the deadly attack that targeted the “Our Lady of Deliverance” church in Baghdad last October, which resulted in the deaths of more than fifty people.
The counter-terrorism prison incident involved a number of al-Qaeda figures, including the so-called ‘governor of Baghdad’, Hudhayfah Batawy. This incident came “as a reaction planned by elements of the organization in response to the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden”, according to a statement from an Iraqi security official, pointing out that “this prison housed leaders of al-Qaeda who were sentenced to death”.
The senior officer in the Iraqi army was surprised by the operation, in which the tight security of the Interior Ministry compound was breached, and guns, explosive materials and bombs entered the prison. This led to the death of Muayad al-Salah, a senior counter-terrorism officer, who was shot in the head. Another lieutenant colonel was killed, while another colonel was injured, in an operation aiming to rescue terrorist leaders including Hudhayfah Batawy. The source pointed out that “the media statements issued from the security agencies about this operation were ridiculous, they were like a screenplay from a poor film. The agencies responsible did not reveal the reality of how this operation was implemented, namely that it was conducted in collusion with certain devices within the Interior Ministry, and the attackers. How else can the security officials explain the entry of the attackers into the fortified compound so easily, and how they gained control of a prison for hardened criminals?”
The Iraqi officer went on to say that “what has been said about the prisoners themselves obtaining weapons and hand grenades inside the prison is untrue. These weapons and grenades were brought into the prison by the attackers, with the complicity of guards and the security apparatus protecting the Interior Ministry compound. There must be an impartial investigation to reveal the facts to the Iraqis”. He warned of “the lack of intelligence coordination between the security services, the loyalty of each security apparatus towards its political or ideological views, and security agencies working for political purposes. All this led to the incident, which is a victory for the forces of terrorism”.
According to the account of the security services at the time, the operation, led by Batawy, began when a lieutenant began an interrogation process, intending to find out about a recent series of assassinations in Baghdad, and the possibility that these were linked to al-Qaeda reprisals for the death of Bin Laden.
A security source said that “the cell door was opened for the group [to be interrogated], and Batawy was able to grab a gun and hold the officer hostage, before others were able to leave their cells and go out to the prison yard”. He added that “the group gained access to the office of lieutenant colonel Muayad al-Salah, and killed him with a bullet to the head. Another lieutenant colonel was killed, and another injured”.
He pointed out that “the group managed to seize various weapons and hand grenades inside the prison, after clashes with prison guards”, in which four members of the police were killed. Five of the prisoners “managed to hijack a military vehicle in an attempt to escape, but the rapid-reaction forces killed all of them”, according to the same source.
Regarding the reason for the lack of implementation of the death sentences issued by the Iraqi judiciary against these criminals, the Iraqi military officer said yesterday that “there are hundreds of criminals on death row whose sentences have not been carried out, and this is because political factions use them as bargaining chips in negotiations”. He revealed that “there are some political parties negotiating for the release of some al-Qaeda leaders, in what they called a ‘process of national reconciliation’. This is dangerous, and threatens the judiciary, stability and security”.
With regards to the operation carried out by al-Qaeda terrorists in Salah al-Din province last month, which targeted the headquarters of the provincial council in Tikrit, killing 58 people including members of the council, the Iraqi officer said that: “this operation was carried out by two individuals, as a result of a genuine security breach by some police officers assigned to protect the provincial council, thus facilitating the terrorist operation”. He explained that “the terrorists were armed with heavy machine guns and dozens of grenades that were not available to the security forces, who only carry Kalashnikov machine guns of limited performance. I would emphasize that the arms capacity of the terrorists is much better than the arms of our military or security”.
He pointed out that “there is a public conflict between the organs of the Ministries of Defense and Interior, where the Ministry of Interior ignore intelligence information which we in the Ministry of Defense provide them with. They also refuse to provide us with the information they receive, and this is the result of political loyalties and sectarian interests, which dominate the military and interior institutions”.