Inmates have set their prison on fire in the northern city of Tikrit in protest against ill treatment and worsening conditions.
The 400 prisoners then staged a sit in as plumes of smoke rose from the wards where they languished.
The prison warden, Hatem al-Jibouri, called in anti-riot police to impose order.
Jibouri blamed the rioting on “al-Qaeda elements” who he said had set the prison on fire to make it possible for the inmates to flee.
But none of the inmates was reported to have escaped as all of them sat in the prison court, demanding better treatment as the blazes of fire engulfed their wards.
The al-Qaeda charge is there for Iraqi officials to voice as an excuse for their failures.
Relatives of the prisoners told Azzaman correspondent that the prison guards violated the inmates’ rights “on a daily basis.”
Refusing to be named, some family members expressed fears that the authorities would use the “al-Qaeda charge” to use live ammunition against the rioting prisoners.
The inmates were using stones to attack the police.
The mother of one prisoner, refusing to be named, said the sit-in and the rioting took place when the authorities refused to improve conditions in the prison.
“The prisoners wanted to see the governor of Tikrit but they were refused,” she said.
The city Tikrit, the hometown of former leader Saddam Hussein, is the capital of a province bearing the same name.