- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 27, 2008

BAGHDAD | Four suspected members of al Qaeda in Iraq broke out of jail during a riot Friday that killed six police officers and seven prisoners in the western city of Ramadi, police said.

Maj. Gen. Tariq Yousif, the police chief of Anbar province, of which Ramadi is the capital, said four prisoners escaped from the city’s al-Forsan police station. The U.S. military said it had the same numbers for killed and wounded but that only three detainees escaped.

According to Gen. Yousif, the incident started when a prisoner held in a cell with 11 others asked a guard to allow him to go to the bathroom. When the guard opened the cell door, the prisoners pulled him in, grabbed his assault rifle and killed him, then attacked other police.

A curfew was imposed in the city of half a million people, 70 miles west of Baghdad as police searched for the escapees.

Agence France-Presse reported that the fugitives included a local al Qaeda chief, Imad Ahmed Farhan, known as “Imad the Killer,” who has admitted to murdering at least 100 people.

Residents told AFP they heard screams and gunfire in the middle of the night.

“After midnight we heard fierce shouting that reminded us of the clashes that happened with the U.S. and armed groups,” Kamil Ali, a resident who lives near the police station, told AFP.

Anbar is the largest Iraqi province, stretching from the western gates of Baghdad to the borders of Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. It was once center stage in the Sunni Muslim insurgency, which broke out soon after the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 toppled Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated regime.

In late 2006, however, Sunni tribes turned against al Qaeda in Iraq because of its brutal tactics, including mass killings of Shi’ite Muslim civilians and attempts to impose strict Islamic rule. The tribes joined with U.S. forces to push al Qaeda out of the province, and now Anbar is considered one of the quieter parts of the country.

The majority of the U.S. Marine Corps’s 22,000 troops in Iraq are based in Anbar.

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