By Tom Walker, Director, Assaye Risk
In a series of sophisticated simultaneous attacks the ISI has managed to break out hundreds of convicts, including senior members of al Qaeda, from Abu Ghraib jail amidst a military-style assault.
The deadly raid on the high-security jail comes as Sunni Muslim militants are seeking to gain the upper hand and more momentum in their insurgency against the predominantly Shi'ite-led government that has been accused of using the justice and prison system as useful tool in the targeting of the Sunni minority.
Suicide bombers drove cars packed with explosives to the gates of the prison on the outskirts of Baghdad on Sunday night and blasted their way into the compound, while additional militant forces attacked guard locations and barrack blocks with heavy mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.
Other militants took up positions near the main entrance road, fighting off ISF reinforcements coming from Baghdad whilst several militants wearing suicide vests entered the prison on foot to set the conditions for a break out.
The situation worsened as the ISF command and control nodes appeared to become overloaded as a simultaneous attack on another prison, in Taji, around 20 km north of Baghdad, followed a similar pattern, creating a fractious and confused situation (In this case the guards managed to prevent any inmates escaping however sixteen soldiers and six militants were killed).
The ISF eventually regained control after heavy fighting when military helicopters were deployed to assist. Ten policemen and four militants were killed in the ensuing clashes, which continued until Monday morning.
By that time, nearly 500 inmates had succeeded in fleeing Abu Ghraib, most of them being convicted senior members of al Qaeda who were on death row. Some have been rearrested however most remain at large and many are wondering what impact this will have on the ISI capability both in Iraq and Syria.
Further north in the country the ISI followed up with another attack on Monday. In Mosul, 390 km north of Baghdad, a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle packed with explosives behind a military convoy in the eastern Kokchali district, killing at least 22 soldiers and three passers-by, ISF sources reported. Following the attack, leaflets were found near mosques in Mosul signed by the ISI - "After receiving information from our precious nation's sons about the arrival of a convoy of the Safavid Raafidi Army... the lions of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant have confronted them," read the leaflets, using derogatory terms to refer to Shi'ites.