Sunday 21 January 2018

60 killed in prisoner convoy attack

An Iraqi man walks past a destroyed prisoner transport bus in the town of Taji, about 12 miles north of Baghdad (AP)
An Iraqi man walks past a destroyed prisoner transport bus in the town of Taji, about 12 miles north of Baghdad (AP)

Gunmen have attacked a prisoner convoy north of Baghdad, setting off a gunbattle with troops in which 52 prisoners and eight soldiers were killed, officials said.

The dawn attack began with militants firing mortar rounds on Iraqi army bases in the town of Taji, where suspects were being held on terrorism charges, prompting officials to evacuate the facilities, fearing a jailbreak.

As the convoy travelled through a remote area, roadside bombs went off and militants opened fire.

The ensuing battle left 52 prisoners and eight soldiers dead, with another eight soldiers and seven prisoners wounded.

It was not immediately clear if the prisoners were killed by soldiers or militants.

The town of Taji is located some 12 miles (20km) north of the capital.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon arrived in Baghdad earlier, urging lawmakers to "find a common ground" so they can address the crisis sparked by the rapid advance of the Islamic State extremist group and allied Sunni militants across much of northern and western Iraq last month.

At a press conference with embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Mr Ban said Iraq is facing an "existential threat," but one that could be overcome if it forms a "thoroughly inclusive government."

"I am deeply saddened by the senseless death of so many Iraqi people," Mr Ban said. He added that political leaders in Baghdad and the largely autonomous Kurdish region have a "clear responsibility" to work together to protect their citizens.

Islamic State militants have staged several jailbreaks, including a complex, military-style assault on two Baghdad-area prisons in July 2013 that freed more than 500 inmates.

Apparently fearing a repeat of the incident, Shiite militiamen killed nearly four dozen Sunni detainees last month in the town of Baqouba north-west of Baghdad when the facility where they were being held came under attack, according to a report by Amnesty International.

The report documented a "pattern of extrajudicial executions" of mainly Sunni detainees by forces loyal to the Shiite-led government, both in Baqouba and in the north, basing its conclusions on interviews with survivors and relatives of those killed.

The rapid advance of the Islamic State group, which captured Iraq's second largest city of Mosul and declared a self-styled Islamic Caliphate straddling the Iraq-Syria border, has plunged Iraq into its worst crisis since US troops withdrew in 2011.

More than a million Iraqis have been displaced this year, many of them fleeing violence brought on by this latest wave of violence, according to the UN.

Mr Ban strongly condemned the persecution of religious and ethnic minority groups by jihadi militants in Mosul and elsewhere in Iraq, and offered continued UN support to the refugees fleeing the violence.

Speaking alongside the UN secretary-general, Mr al-Maliki said he is committed to forming a government quickly.

"Despite the fact that we have problems...we are moving at a confident pace to implement the mechanisms of the democratic work," Mr al-Maliki said.

Press Association

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