Corrupt administrators, bribery and political connections are all reasons for the continuous series of prison breakouts, many involving Al Qaeda members who later joined militias.
Around 4,000 militants and terrorists have escaped detention with inside help since 2006, the UAE-based newspaper, The National, reported figures compiled by Iraqi Reconciliation Society (IRS), an independent organization the monitors the country’ jails.
Most of the escapes occurred in Baghdad, the capital that is considered to be the instable and unsecure part in the country, IRS records show.
On May 20, five members from the Mahdi Army broke out of the Taji prison west of Baghdad as they were being transferred to a detention centre in the capital.
In Basra, the extreme south of the country, a parliamentary committee was set up to examine the escape of 12 Al Qaeda figures, some facing death sentences, from an interrogation center in the southern province on January 12.
Suzan Al Saad, a committee member, said the probe had “led directly to senior officials in the prime minister’s office who planned the escape” from Basra.
Information leaked to the media about the committee’s findings said Abdul Karim Abdul Fadel, security adviser to the prime minister, Nouri Al Maliki, allegedly helped Al Qaeda members escape.
Also named was Brigadier Ali Fadel Omran, a Baghdad military commander, in connection with the escape. He fled the country just as the parliamentary report was being completed.
“There were high-level security officers connected directly to the prime minister’s office who were coming and going from the prison compound and who had no reason to be there because they had no formal involvement in dealing with those prisoners,” Ms. Saad said in an interview.
Haider Al Saadi, a justice ministry spokesman, said in statement after the Taji escape that “weak and corrupted” administrators had let “a large number” of detainees break out.
The ministry’s spokesman also spoke of the ministry’s “serious concerns” over sectarianism among prison officials and said staff was susceptible to “political pressure.”
Speaking on condition of anonymity, another justice ministry official said there were prisoners with political connections who were “untouchable” while in custody and who eventually were set free because of those connections.
“Some of these prisoners are militants, including Al Qaeda, who enjoy support from political parties,” the official said. He insisted the justice ministry was working to tackle the corruption, which he said had been allowed to flourish for years under previous governments.
Iraq took control of jails previously run by the US military. The last prison under US control, Camp Cropper in Baghdad, was transferred to the Iraqi authorities in July 2010, although some detainees remain in American custody.
The prison breakout series have intensified with the US forces pulling out at the end of the year.
(Dina Al-Shibeeb, an editor at Al Arabiya English, can be reached at: email@example.com)