Four Iraqi prisoners flee U.S. custody

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By Janine Zacharia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, September 10, 2010

BAGHDAD - In an embarrassing and potentially dangerous foul-up, four Iraqi detainees with alleged links to the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq escaped from U.S. custody at a Baghdad detention facility late Wednesday.

The escape was an example of the challenges the United States faces as it scales back its military force and redefines its mission in Iraq.

The identities of the four escapees and the guards who were overseeing their detention were not immediately known. The U.S. military released no details on how the four escaped.

Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta, an Iraqi military spokesman, told the Associated Press that the four were linked to al-Qaeda in Iraq and were facing the death penalty.

They were part of a group of about 200 detainees who were considered too dangerous to hand over to Iraqi control when the U.S. military transferred responsibility for the detention facility at Camp Cropper - renamed Karkh Prison - and its 1,500 detainees to the Iraqi government in July.

A week after the transfer, four prisoners with alleged links to al-Qaeda in Iraq escaped from the Iraqi side of the prison. The new Iraqi warden of the prison, who had been appointed at the urging of U.S. officials, vanished shortly after that earlier jailbreak.

Wednesday's escape follows President Obama's Aug. 31 announcement of the end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq. The U.S. military has reduced its forces to 50,000 troops who remain largely in an advisory role.

The absence of the four prisoners was discovered Wednesday night after two other detainees were caught trying to escape.

U.S. and Iraqi forces and the Iraqi Justice Ministry "are working to apprehend these individuals," said Maj. Gen. Jerry Cannon, the deputy commanding general for detainee operations. "This event is under investigation."


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