Baghdad: Prisoners seized weapons and set off hours-long clashes with security guards at a prison in Saddam Hussein`s hometown that left 12 dead, including 10 guards, before dozens of inmates managed to escape from the facility, Iraqi officials said on Friday.
The escaped prisoners included al Qaeda suspects, said a provincial spokesman, though he could not say whether the terror group was behind the jailbreak in Tikrit, 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Baghdad.
It was the latest embarrassing security lapse in Iraq, raising questions about the Shiite-led government`s ability to ensure the country`s security in the wake of the US troop withdrawal last December.
The prison riot erupted on last night, said Mohammed al-Assi, the spokesman for Salahuddin province where Tikrit is the provincial capital. Several inmates broke into the prison storeroom, grabbing weapons that were kept there and overpowering the guards, he said.
The prisoners then engaged in a long gun battle with security troops inside the facility before breaking out hours later. By Friday morning, government troops had regained control of the prison, al-Assi said, and a curfew was imposed in Tikrit.
"Everything is under control now. Our security forces are chasing the escaped prisoners and have already recaptured some," al-Assi told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
A provincial health official, Raed Ibrahim, confirmed that 12 people died in the violence - 10 prison guards and two inmates. He said 32 people were wounded in the clashes at the prison.
Qutaiba al-Jubouri, a lawmaker from the province, said a total of 81 inmates, including some who had been sentenced to death, managed to escape but that 36 of them were quickly recaptured.
"This is a regrettable security breach," said al-Jubouri, adding that an investigation will follow, "starting with the commanders of the security forces" at the prison.
He added that special forces were sent to Tikrit from Baghdad in order to put down the rioting. Security forces later dismantled three car bombs that were found parked near the prison.