On the night of July 21st, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant assaulted the prisons at Taji and Abu Ghraib, freeing a confirmed 500 prisoners from the latter.
Suicide bombers drove vehicles packed with explosives up to the gates of Abu Ghraib and detonated them. This opened the way for assault forces moving into the compound, while other fighters brought the guards under small arms, mortar, and RPG fire. Still others set up blocking positions on the roads to fend off reinforcements. More fighters, wearing suicide vests, were reported going into the prison to free the prisoners. A report from Al Akhbar says that the attack only started after the prisoners began rioting, suggesting there were communications from inside the prison before the assault. Given a history of turncoats in the Iraqi Security Forces, particularly the Iraqi Police (though nowhere near the level of Afghanistan), this should come as no surprise.
Fighting continued throughout the night, only ending Monday morning when Iraqi helicopters arrived to provide support. At least ten Iraqi Policemen and four ISIL fighters were confirmed killed in the fighting, though other reports place the Iraqi Security Forces losses at twenty, with an additional twelve inmates killed. Hakim al Zamili, a senior member of parliament’s security and defense committee, confirmed that at least 500 prisoners escaped, including several High Value Individuals, whom he did not identify.
The same night, ISIL launched a similar attack on the prison at Taji, 12 miles north of Baghdad. While the Security Forces are reported to have lost sixteen killed, with six insurgents dead, they managed to hold off the attack and prevent any prisoners from escaping.
Curfews have been placed around both prisons, and searches are being conducted. As of this morning, Wissam al Fraiji, a Justice Ministry spokesman, claims that 108 prisoners have been recaptured. He did not mention any of the AQ HVIs, so it is unlikely that any of them have been retaken.
This is not the first recent jailbreak executed by Al Qaeda in Iraq. On September 27, 2012, the group executed a similar complex attack on the Tasfirat Prison in Tikrit. Just like the recent attacks, the Tasfirat attack used suicide car bombs and coordinated strikes from within and without the prison. All of these attacks are part of the “Destroying the Walls” campaign announced by Abu Du’a in July, 2012, aimed at freeing as many jihadist prisoners in Iraq as possible.