Home inContext Raid on Iraqi Prisons Frees Several Senior Al-Qaeda Members

Raid on Iraqi Prisons Frees Several Senior Al-Qaeda Members

Beth Kanopsic

Militants simultaneously raided two high-security prisons near Iraq’s capital Sunday, claiming the lives of more than 20 security officials. Al-Qaeda in Iraq, calling themselves Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attack on the Abu Ghraib and Taji prisons.

The leader of the al-Qaeda Iraqi branch, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, promised a “Breaking the Walls” campaign a year ago this week to free its imprisoned members. Indeed, the group’s militants planned the well-coordinated attack that lasted more than 10 hours. Assailants used 12 car bombs, rocket barrages, and mortar shells to reach the inside of the prison compounds. The assault freed 500 prisoners, including many senior al-Qaeda members who had received death sentences, according to senior Iraqi parliamentarian Hakim al-Zamili. Security forces have arrested some of the escapees, but many of them remain undetained.

Al-Qaeda’s branch in Iraq claimed responsibility on July 23 for raids on two high-security prisons on the outskirts of Baghdad this week that killed dozens and set free hundreds of inmates. (Photo: AP)

Al-Qaeda and Sunni militant groups seem to have gained momentum in recent months, possibly building from their success in Syria. Hamid Fadhil, a professor at Baghdad University, explained that militant groups now launch assaults on some of the most secure places in Iraq with large numbers of security forces. An unnamed senior State Department official echoed Fadhil’s unease saying, “We are concerned about the increased tempo and sophistication of al-Qaeda operations in Iraq.”

This weekend’s attacks come in the wake of some of the most violent months Iraq has witnessed in five years. Without U.S. forces on the ground to help ensure the peace, extremists continue to launch large-scale attacks. Since April, over 2,800 people have been killed and more than 7,000 wounded in sectarian violence, inciting fears of a renewed civil war.