BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Prisoners started a fire during a riot at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, U.S. and Iraqi officials said, resulting in some injuries before wardens began evacuating the jail that became notorious for U.S. detainee abuse.
Namir Mohammed, a local council member in western Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib district, said the inmates set fire to mattresses on Thursday following a search of the facility for mobile phones and banned drugs or medication.
Prison officials said inmates were unhappy about conditions at the jail, which became known across the world as a site of U.S. soldiers’ abuse and sexual humiliation of Iraqi detainees after the ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
“Today on orders from the government we started evacuating the prison to other jails inside Baghdad,” a prison warden who declined to be named told Reuters by telephone.
“A government committee is handling evacuation. We don’t know where they went.”
He added others would be removed Saturday but he did not know if some would be left behind.
Pictures of abuse at Abu Ghraib sparked indignation worldwide and helped fuel a bloody insurgency in Iraq that has only begun to fade in the past 18 months.
The prison has since been taken over by Iraqi officials and was reopened in February with a new name. Iraqi officials plan to hold only a fraction of the tens of thousands of prisoners it housed under Saddam and promise improved conditions.
Ahmed al-Khafaji, deputy interior minister, said late on Thursday the fire had been brought under control. It had caused injuries among some prison staff but not the inmates, he said.
Friday morning, a U.S. military spokesman said inmates at Abu Ghraib had started a fire in their cell to try to overpower their guards. Three guards and three inmates were reportedly injured, he said. U.S. aircraft backed Iraqi forces in responding to the incident.
(Reporting by Fadhel al-Badrani in Falluja and Suadad al-Salhy in Baghdad; writing by Missy Ryan; editing by Philippa Fletcher)