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May 8th, 2011

17 Killed in al-Qaida Assault on Iraqi Prison

Top counterterrorism officer among the dead

Image: Mourners carry the coffin of Brigadier Muaeid Mohammed Saleh during his funeral in Baghdad
Mourners carry the coffin of Brigadier Muaeid Mohammed Saleh during his funeral in Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, May 8, 2011. Salah , the head of a department responsible for combating terrorism and organized crime in eastern Baghdad, was killed when prisoners entered his office and shot him along with another officer who was in the room. (Photo credit: Karim Kadim / AP)

By Hamid Ahmed

May 8, 2011

BAGHDAD — The accused mastermind of a Baghdad church siege that killed dozens last fall nearly escaped from prison Sunday after wresting a gun from a guard and launching an hours-long assault that left 17 people dead, including a top Iraqi counterterrorism general [Brig. Gen. Muaeid Mohammed Saleh].

None of the prisoners — all suspected members of al-Qaida in Iraq — managed to break out of the heavily fortified Interior Ministry headquarters in eastern Baghdad. Ringleader Abu Huthaifa al-Battawi, who allegedly led the October attack on the Our Lady of Salvation cathedral that left 68 dead and stunned the nation, was shot and killed as he tried to flee in a car.

The midnight melee at what is supposed to be one of country’s most secure jails heightens doubt about whether Iraqi forces are ready to protect the nation as U.S. troops prepare to leave by December. …

Six police officers and 11 detainees were killed in the attempted jailbreak, said Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, Baghdad’s top military spokesman.

Al-Moussawi and two Interior Ministry officials described a dramatic blitz by al-Battawi as he and up to 24 other prisoners were being taken from their cells to interrogation rooms. …

Al-Moussawi said the late-night interrogations sought more details about the Oct. 31 church siege. Militants burst into the church during Mass and gunned down priests and worshippers before detonating their explosives-packed vests. Half the parishioners were killed in the attack, which so scared Iraq’s minority Christian community that thousands have fled the country, saying they hoped never to return.

In a statement, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called for an investigation of the nearly successful jailbreak, urging Iraqi forces to “not allow any failure or breach of security.”

National security is a sensitive topic for al-Maliki, who barely won a second term last year and has so far failed to fill the top posts at the interior and defense ministries more than four months after he seated his government. Al-Maliki is reluctant to ask U.S. forces to remain in Iraq past 2011, which would require a new security agreement between Washington and Baghdad and anger anti-American Shiite allies who helped put him in power.

Sunday’s prison assault marks the latest blunder by Iraqi forces, and raises questions about whether they still need training and other on-the-ground aid from U.S. troops. …

Full story


Related reports on this site

Image: Interior of the Our Lady of Salvation church after the attack
A mobile phone camera image obtained by the Associated Press shows the interior of the Our Lady of Salvation Catholic Church in central Baghdad’s Al-Karrada neighborhood after the Sunday, October 31, 2010 attack that left 68 dead.

Christians Fleeing New Iraq (Jan. 20, 2011)

Christians Persecuted in Iraq (Dec. 30, 2010)

After Saddam, Christian Persecution in New Iraq (Dec. 19, 2010)

Rivers of Christian Blood in Iraq (Nov. 3, 2010)

Catholic Hostages Killed in Iraq (Oct. 31, 2010)

Christian Cleansing in Iraq (July 12, 2009)

In Iraq, an Exodus of Christians (May 16, 2009)

Christians on the Run in Iraq (Nov. 26, 2008)

Christians Flee Iraqi City (Oct. 12, 2008)


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — May 8, 2010

Taliban First Strike on U.S. Soil

Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud, above, may have sent Times Square bomb suspect Faisal Shahzad to stage his group’s first attack on the U.S. (Photo credit: Naseer Mehsud / AFP — Getty Images)

One year ago today, I reported that Pakistan was investigating whether Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani-American arrested over a botched plot to bomb New York’s Times Square, had met with top Pakistani Taliban leaders in South Waziristan prior to his failed bombing attempt.


FROM THE ARCHIVES: Two Years Ago — May 8, 2009

Iraqi Security Forces Stumbling

Image: Iraqi soldiers patrol Baghdad street
Iraqi soldiers patrol a street during an operation in Baghdad’s al-Fadhil district in March 2009. (Photo credit: Mohammed Ameen / Reuters file)

Two years ago today, on May 8, 2009, I reported that Iraq’s security forces, despite significant improvements, remained hobbled by shortages of men and equipment, bureaucracy, corruption, political interference, and security breaches that have resulted in the deaths of dozens of Iraqi and American troops.

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