Detainees Escape From U.S. Military Camp


New York Times

April 17, 2005

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Eleven detainees upset about their treatment by U.S. captors escaped Saturday from the military's largest detention center in Iraq by climbing through a hole in the fence, and bombings around the country killed a dozen Iraqis.

Ten of the 11 escapees were recaptured after fleeing Camp Bucca, the largest U.S. detention facility with about 6,000 prisoners, nearly two-thirds of all those in Iraq.

In the central Iraqi town of Madain, Sunni militants took about 70 Shiite males hostage and threatened to kill them unless all Shiites left the town, government officials and a Shiite political group said Saturday.

Iraqi security forces were surrounding the area, trying to contain the situation, a Defense Ministry official said.

''There were about 100 masked men, riding in cars, roaming the city. They took hostages from the Shiite youth and old men, and demanded the Shiites leave the city,'' said Haitham Husseini, spokesman for the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution, Iraq's largest Shiite group. ''The families contacted us yesterday and they asked for our help. There is a fear now among the women and children.''

Husseini said insurgents who follow the fundamentalist Muslim brand of Sunni Islam called Wahhabism were trying to spark sectarian strife in the town. But he said Shiites would not retaliate.

''Until now, we're not getting involved. We're waiting for the government to do what it has to do,'' Husseini said.

In a mosque in eastern Baghdad, Iraqi police arrested a cleric in the influential Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars. Dia'a al-Jewari was detained on suspicion of having links with insurgent groups, Iraqi police officer Hamza Lazim said.

The arrest came a day after Ahmed Abdul Ghafour al-Samarrai, an important Sunni cleric in the association, urged Iraq's new president to buck U.S. pressure and free thousands of suspected rebels, a sign that the religious group most often associated with Iraq's insurgency might be willing to work with the new government.

The recaptured Camp Bucca escapees were to be held by Iraqi police until they could be sent back to the facility in southeastern Iraq.

One escapee told The Associated Press the group fled through a hole in the fence.

''We decided to flee the prison because of the bad treatment and delay in investigations,'' 24-year-old Hussein Nima said.

The prisons have been criticized for holding detainees indefinitely.

Lt. Col. Guy Rudisill, a military spokesman, said officials confirmed that 11 prisoners were missing after discovering the hole. He denied allegations of mistreatment, saying the inmates get three meals a day, access to shower facilities, prayer rugs and a copy of the Quran.

''We provide them with every humane type of care,'' said Rudisill, who declined to say why the 11 were being held.

The escape came two days after a melee among prisoners left one detainee dead and injured dozens of others, the U.S. military said.

The detainee Nima said the fight was between U.S. soldiers and prisoners.

Last month, the U.S. military said guards discovered a 600-foot tunnel -- dug with makeshift tools -- leading out of Camp Bucca. The tunnel reached beyond the compound fence, with an opening hidden beneath a floorboard, but no one escaped, authorities said.

In Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, a bomb exploded Saturday inside a restaurant often used by Iraqi police, killing five policemen and two civilians and wounding one civilian, police Col. Mudhafar al-Jubouri said.

In the northern city of Kirkuk, insurgents in speeding vehicles fired on Iraqi soldiers and policemen heading to work in the northern city of Kirkuk on Saturday, killing three security force members, police said. Gunmen killed a policeman and two soldiers in separate drive-by shootings, police Brig. Sarhat Qadir said.

A suicide car bomber attacked a U.S. military convoy on the road near Baghdad's airport, killing one Iraqi civilian and wounding three others, police Capt. Talib Thamir said. There was no immediate word on any U.S. casualties.

Also, unidentified gunmen in a car shot at another vehicle in Baghdad carrying Filipino workers, wounding one, police and hospital officials said. It was unclear why the Filipinos were targeted.

Further north, in Mosul, a car bomb damaged one vehicle in a U.S. military convoy, slightly wounding six soldiers, Sgt. John H. Franzen said. The attack came as Iraqi and U.S. forces were completing two days of raids in and around Mosul that led to the detention of 27 suspected insurgents, the military said in a statement.

In his comments during Friday prayers, al-Samarrai, the leading Sunni cleric, said that if President Jalal Talabani ''wants to begin a new page, he must first release those in jail. Secondly, there must be a full pardon.'' Al-Sammarai also urged Talabani to refuse to ''obey and kneel to pressure from'' Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Most of the 10,500 detainees are held by the American military, and the United States has opposed freeing prisoners or pardoning insurgents.

There have been growing calls to deal with the detained Iraqis. Outgoing interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi this week sent a message to the U.S. military commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, asking him to review the prisoners' cases.

It remains unclear how much say Talabani will have in his largely ceremonial post. Prime Minister-designate Ibrahim al-Jaafari is putting together a Cabinet and it is not known whether the new government backs a pardon.

Al-Samarrai's comments came three days after Rumsfeld made a surprise visit to Iraq and urged the emerging government to avoid politicizing the Iraqi military.

After being sworn in as president this month, Talabani appealed to Iraqi militants to work with the newly elected leadership and suggested they could be pardoned, although he said the Iraqi government would continue to fight foreign insurgents.

While some lawmakers say Talabani was expressing his personal opinion, the president and other government officials have reached out to the Sunni minority, which was the dominant group under Saddam Hussein and is believed to be the backbone of the insurgency.

Many Sunnis, believed to make up as much as 20 percent of Iraq's estimated 26 million people, boycotted the Jan. 30 elections for the National Assembly or stayed home for fear of attacks at the polls.


Associated Press reporter Abbas Fayadh in Basra contributed to this report.