Jailbreaks are relatively common in Iraq.
A dozen prisoners, including al-Qaida-linked death row inmates, escaped from the Taji prison in January after seizing guards’ weapons. And in September, scores more inmates got away following clashes at a prison in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit that left 12 people dead.
Still, the scale of this week’s attacks was significant and “appears to have been an operation long in the planning” by al-Qaida, said Charles Lister, an analyst at IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center.
Al-Qaida’s Iraq arm, now known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, has been positioning itself as a champion of minority Sunnis disillusioned with the Shiite-led government. It is also pushing to make itself a major player among the Sunni rebels fighting to topple the government in neighboring Syria.
“Releasing ordinary prisoners will help gain the group the image of a Sunni armed force representing Sunnis in a Shiite-governed state. Releasing militants will clearly provide a huge boost in morale,” particularly if they include senior commanders, Lister said. “Depending on actual numbers, this could well boost (the group’s) operations in Iraq but also feasibly in Syria.”
In a separate incident early on Monday, a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden car into an army convoy in northern Iraq, killing at least 13 people, ten of them soldiers, according to police and hospital officials. They said 16 people were wounded.
Mosul, 360 kilometers (220 miles) northwest of Baghdad, is one of Iraq’s major flashpoints and a stronghold for insurgents, including al-Qaida. Officials who gave the details of the attacks there also spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.
In another attack, provincial council member Abdullah Sami al-Assai was killed along with his two bodyguards in a drive-by-shooting near the center of the ethnically disputed northern city of Kirkuk, according to Kirkuk deputy governor Rakan al-Jubouri and police.
Two other people were killed when a bomb exploded in a commercial street in Madain, 20 kilometers (14 miles) southeast of Baghdad, shortly before sunset, according to authorities.
Ramadan this year is shaping up to be the bloodiest since 2007, with more than 350 Iraqis killed since the holy month started on July 10.