BAGHDAD — Late-night jailbreak attempts at two major prisons outside Baghdad have killed dozens, including at least 25 members of Iraq’s security forces who battled militants armed with car bombs, mortars and machine guns, officials said Monday.
In northern Iraq, a suicide car bomber targeted an army patrol on Monday, killing 12 people, officials said.
The coordinated attacks on the prisons in Taji and Abu Ghraib on the outskirts of Baghdad, which both hold convicted al-Qaida militants, were the latest indication of Iraq’s deteriorating security conditions.
There were conflicting reports on whether inmates had escaped following the assaults, which started late Sunday. Local media and militant Internet forums said some prisoners managed to flee, but authorities did not confirm any break-outs.
Interior Ministry spokesman Saad Maan Ibrahim denied any prisoners had escaped, while Justice Ministry spokesman Wissam al-Firaiji said 21 prisoners were killed during the fighting and 25 were wounded. He was unable to confirm reports of prisoners escaping, saying authorities were still counting the inmates.
Many of the thousands of the prisoners at the two facilities are insurgents, including members of al-Qaida’s Iraq branch convicted on terrorism-related charges.
Early Monday, government forces combed the areas around the prisons searching for more attackers, and guards at Taji appeared on high alert with assault rifles at the ready. Police imposed a curfew in the Abu Ghraib area.
The jail-break attempts started with attackers detonating bombs and lobbing mortar rounds Sunday night at Taji prison, 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Baghdad. A suicide car bomber then attacked the main gate while another suicide bomber blew himself up nearby, sparking clashes between militants and the guards, according to police.
As the battle raged for about two hours outside, rioting inmates set fire to blankets and furniture, police said. Army helicopters were called in to help thwart the attacks, according to the Interior Ministry.
Fifteen soldiers were killed and 13 others were wounded in the Taji attack, ministry officials said. At least six militants were also reported killed.
Around the same time, a similar raid unfolded at the prison in Abu Ghraib in Baghdad’s western suburbs. Insurgents there struck the prison walls with mortar rounds and a car bomb, and at least one militant blew himself up at the main gate. Ten policemen were killed and 19 others were wounded, the officials said. Four militants were reported killed in that attack.
Hospital officials confirmed the casualties. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to release the information.
Security forces reported finding undetonated car bombs and explosive belts used by suicide bombers near both prisons after the attacks.
The U.S. military previously operated the lock-ups in Taji and Abu Ghraib but handed control of both facilities back to Iraqi authorities before the last American troops departed in December 2011.
Abuse of prisoners at the hands of American guards inside Abu Ghraib following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion sparked outrage around the world and helped fuel anti-American sentiment in Iraq.
In a separate incident early Monday, a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden car into an army patrol in northern Iraq, killing at least 12 people, police and medical officials said.
The bomber hit the patrol in a residential area in the city of Mosul, killing nine soldiers and three civilians, a police officer said. He added that 14 people, including four civilians, were wounded.
Mosul, 360 kilometers (220 miles) northwest of Baghdad, is one of Iraq’s major flashpoints. Officials who gave the details of the attacks there also spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.
A surge of attacks has killed more than 450 Iraqis since the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan on July 10.
The violence comes amid a larger spike in bloodshed in recent months that has raised fears of a return to the widespread sectarian killing that pushed the country to the brink of civil war after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
Associated Press writers Adam Schreck and Qassim Abdul-Zahra contributed to this report in Baghdad.