At Least 15 Iraqi Troops Die in Explosives Mishap

By Nada Bakri
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, September 25, 2009; 3:49 PM

BAGHDAD, Sept. 25 -- At least 15 Iraqi soldiers from an explosives-disposal unit were killed Friday in northern Iraq when a controlled explosion detonated accidentally, security officials said.

The unit was trying to detonate bombs in a remote area in the town of Baashika, east of Mosul, a violent region where many insurgents are thought to have regrouped after being driven from Baghdad and from other provinces. Attacks against security forces there occur daily.

The explosion took place in a lot where security forces store and detonate explosives and ammunition confiscated from insurgents. Authorities said they are investigating the causes of the incident.

The bombing came a day after 16 inmates, some awaiting execution and some accused of belonging to the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq, escaped from a makeshift prison in the northern city of Tikrit. Last month, two bombings at the Foreign and Finance ministries in Baghdad left at least 92 people dead and hundreds more injured.

Such incidents have raised fears among many Iraqis about the ability of their armed forces to maintain security, which had shown signs of improvement in recent months.

Authorities said Friday that at least 100 prison officials and guards, including 10 officers, have been arrested and three special committees formed to investigate the prison breakout in Tikrit.

"We are looking to see if the guards assisted the prisoners in their escape or if it was a matter of negligence only," said Col. Hatem Akram, a spokesman for the Tikrit police. Hatem said that if it was proved that guards had aided the inmates, they could be sentenced to as much as 20 years in prison.

On Friday, police captured five of the inmates, including a high-ranking al-Qaeda in Iraq leader. On Thursday, another inmate was captured. The prisoners were caught in and around Tikrit, a city near the birthplace of former president Saddam Hussein.

The U.S. military was providing aerial assistance as authorities continued to search for the other escapees.

A curfew in Tikrit was lifted Friday morning, although security remained tight, officials said.

Officials in Tikrit and Baghdad said that prisoners broke a ventilation window using metal fixtures from a sink and escaped just before midnight Wednesday when the prison was lightly guarded.

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