Another lawmaker, Hakim al-Zamili, said many of the escaped inmates had been captured or killed by Monday afternoon. He said authorities believe the attack on Taji was a distraction, and that Abu Ghraib was the main target.
So many prisoners were able to get away from Abu Ghraib because they were in the prison yard for the communal iftar meal that ends the daylong fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, said a senior intelligence official and two other government officials.
They also confirmed the number of escaped inmates and said an investigation has now been launched into who ordered the open-air Ramadan feast. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation.
A preliminary investigation suggests the insurgents had inside help, said the Interior Ministry.
As battles at the prisons raged between gunmen and guards, 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. It confirmed the escape of “several prisoners,” without providing details.
Police reported 15 soldiers and 13 others wounded in the Taji attack, along with six militants. Ten policemen were killed and 19 others were wounded in Abu Ghraib, and also four militants, according to police and hospital officials, who all spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to release the information.
A total of 21 prisoners were killed and another 25 wounded during the attacks, according to Justice Ministry spokesman Wissam al-Firaiji.
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 sparked outrage around the world and helped fuel anti-American sentiment in Iraq.