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Rioters set fires at Abu Ghraib prison

Abu Ghraib prison inmates rioted for a second straight day Friday to demand better conditions, setting fire to mattresses before authorities said the situation was brought under control.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Abu Ghraib prison inmates rioted for a second straight day Friday to demand better conditions, setting fire to mattresses and seizing an assault rifle from a guard before authorities said the situation was brought under control.

Lawmaker Zeinab al-Kinani, who was part of a delegation that negotiated with the prisoners, said they demanded pardons and also the replacement of prison staff who they said were mistreating inmates.

After the delegation agreed to form a committee to study giving amnesty to some prisoners, most of the inmates returned to their cells, al-Kinani said. A small group who had refused to end their protest were forced back into their cells by authorities, and four prisoners were injured in the process, she said.

The prison, long a byword for brutality under former leader Saddam Hussein, gained further notoriety with the 2004 release of photos showing U.S. soldiers abusing prisoners.

The facility is now back under Iraqi control and has been officially renamed the Baghdad Central Prison, though locals still refer to it as Abu Ghraib. Eleven U.S. soldiers were eventually convicted of crimes at the prison.

Iraqi soldiers killed in north
In Iraq's north on Friday, insurgents attacked a checkpoint west of the city of Kirkuk, killing five soldiers, said Lt. Col. Khalil al-Zobaie. The assailants also destroyed a Humvee and made off with guns and ammunition, he said.

The unrest at Abu Ghraib began Thursday evening when three inmates started a fire in their cell and tried to overpower guards, U.S. military spokesman Master Sgt. Nicholas Conner said.

Prison authorities called in the Iraqi army to help quell the disturbance, and the U.S. military was asked to provide helicopter support to monitor areas outside the prison, Conner said.

Iraqi authorities reported that three guards and three prisoners were injured before security forces regained control, Conner said.

The U.S. military said it was not called to help when violence flared up again on Friday.

Iraqi lawmaker Shatha al-Abousi, who is a member of parliament's human rights committee, told the AP that two prisoners were killed during the rioting on Thursday.

But Deputy Justice Minister Busho Ibrahim insisted Friday that there had been no fatalities in the two days of riots, and she said Iraqi security forces were now back in full control of the prison.

One inmate had managed to get a rifle from a guard, al-Abousi said, and it was not clear how authorities got it back.

"The situation is calm now in the prison, and everything has returned to normal," Ibrahim said without elaborating.

Sectarian clash?
Local reports on what set off the initial violence varied widely. One said the disturbance was a clash between Sunni and Shiite inmates, while another said it was an organized protest by inmates demanding to be allowed to use cell phones.

Shiite lawmakers from a political bloc loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said they had information that the unrest was sparked by inhumane treatment of inmates by the prison administration. They also called for an investigation into the incident and said they would bring it up before parliament.

"We will not let this incident at Abu Ghraib prison pass quietly," said spokesman Ahmed al-Masoudi in a statement on the bloc's Web site.

Elsewhere, the casualty toll from a suicide truck bombing Thursday in the northern village of Wardek rose to 25 dead and 50 injured as more bodies were pulled from the rubble of destroyed homes, said Iraqi army Col. Rebwar Younis.

There were no claims of responsibility for the bombing of the Shiite Kurd village, but it bore the hallmarks of al-Qaida in Iraq and other Sunni insurgents who remain active in Mosul and surrounding areas in Ninevah province. U.S. commanders have warned that insurgents there appear to be trying to stoke an Arab-Kurdish conflict.

In Friday prayers in the holy Shiite city of Karbala, Sheik Abdul-Mahdi al-Karbalaie, an aide to Iraq's Shiite spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, told worshippers the suicide bombing "showed a clear negligence of security."

"We call upon the government to take swift and decisive measures to deal with this negligence," he said. "Not only that, senior officials should visit checkpoints to monitor the performance of security forces."