'Four al-Qaida inmates escape jail'
Four al-Qaida-linked detainees have escaped from a Baghdad area prison that was handed over by the US to Iraqi authorities a week ago, Iraq's justice minister said on Thursday - a situation that will embarrass the government.
Dara Noureddin said the four, awaiting trial on terrorism charges, escaped from the high security prison formerly known as Camp Cropper. The escape is the second to come to light in Iraq in a week.
The July 15 handover by US forces of the prison that once held Saddam Hussein and other senior members of his regime marked a milestone for Iraq's push to regain full sovereignty.
It offered a new measure of pride in a nation where bombings and assassinations are still common and the formation of a new government has been slowed by politicians jostling for power since a March 7 parliamentary election.
Noureddin did not identify the men who escaped, but said they had been arrested by US forces following a clash with the men in 2008 in western Iraq.
The US military, in an email statement, said it had "no information to share" on the case and referred questions to the Iraqi government.
Two Iraqi intelligence officials and a third in the Interior Ministry who are knowledgeable about the case said authorities believe the four men - whom they identified as al-Qaida members - were aided by the prison official in charge of their block.
The intelligence officials said the four were discovered missing on Tuesday during an evening roll call. When prison staff went to inform the unit head, they found that he, too, was missing. He has not reported for work since, the officials said.
The intelligence officials said one of the escaped inmates is believed to be a senior member of the group, and had the title of finance minister of the Islamic State of Iraq, an al-Qaida front group.