More than 20 Iraqi police officers were arrested and face interrogation Saturday following the escape of 19 detainees from a temporary prison in Iraq. The group of escapees, who were being held at the al-Tasfirat prison in the city of Kirkuk, included alleged al-Qaeda leaders [Al Jazeera report] and two men who had been sentenced to death. Most of the prisoners faced terrorism-related charges. The group allegedly escaped by drugging the guards and other prisoners [AFP report] before removing a ventilator in a bathroom and escaping through the opening. Iraq Deputy Interior Minister Adnan al Assadi alleged that some of the police officers may have been negligent in their guard duties or may have collaborated with the prisoners. Kirkuk provincial police chief Jamal Taher Bakr said he had started investigations into the escape and that one of the prisoners had been recaptured.
Iraq has recently come under fire for alleged poor conditions in its prisons. In February 2011, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] reported that the Iraqi government was operating secret prisons [JURIST report], and suspects held in Iraqi custody had been systematically tortured since before the start of the Iraq War [JURIST feature] in 2003. In September 2010, AI reported that the Iraqi government was unlawfully detaining and torturing [JURIST report] thousands of detainees. In June, UN Special Representative to Iraq Ad Melkert urged the Iraqi government [JURIST report] to ratify the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.