Iraqi prisoners overpower guards

BAGHDAD — The suspected mastermind of October's massacre at a Baghdad church attempted a daring jailbreak Sunday and killed several police officers before he and his accomplices were shot dead.

The running battles inside a detention facility on the grounds of the Interior Ministry ended with 11 detainees and six officers dead, according to security commanders.

The predawn violence cast a disturbing light on Iraq's detention centers and security apparatus, which has been buffeted since last summer by a series of escapes and charges of political interference.

The prisoners Sunday overpowered guards and killed a senior counterterrorism general and five others before they were detained or shot dead. It was not clear how many detainees participated in the mayhem that lasted several hours.

Huthaifa Batawi, the chief of an al-Qaida affiliate in Baghdad blamed for the Baghdad church massacre that resulted in more than 50 deaths, managed to overpower a guard who was escorting him to the bathroom, said Gen. Dhiya Kinani, the head of the Interior Ministry's counterterrorism branch.

"The terrorist was able to control the guard and took his weapon. He started to open fire," Kinani said. "When the manager of the department and his officers heard the shooting, they rushed to the scene. The manager of the department was injured and later died."

The prisoners then split off into two gangs: one group tried to flee and reached an outer gate where guards opened fire, killing two of them and wounding three others. Batawi holed up in a jail corridor with other detainees.

"They asked them to surrender and raise their hands several times, but they refused," Kinani said. "They continued shooting... (and) the forces were forced to open fire and kill them."

Among the dead officers was counterterrorism official Brig. Gen. Moayad Salah.

Security officials blamed Batawi for both the church attack, and 16 bombings in Baghdad one day last November, along with an assault the previous summer on Iraq's central bank.

Maj. Gen. Qasim Atta Mousawi, military spokesman for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said the rampage had been carefully plotted. "There has been a dereliction (of duty) in what has happened," Mousawi said. "The incident was preplanned."

The latest incident had implications for Iraq's feuding coalition government, which has been unable to agree on selecting interior and defense ministers.

Politicians painted the incident as evidence of a breakdown in the command of Iraq's security apparatus, as American military forces set to finish their withdrawal from the country by year's end.