BAGHDAD, Iraq – Insurgents attacked the Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad, injuring 44 U.S. forces and 12 prisoners Saturday, the U.S. military said, while six people were killed elsewhere in Iraq following a period of declining attacks that had raised hopes the insurgency might be weakening.
At least 40 militants fired rocket-propelled grenades and set off two car bombs at the infamous prison as darkness fell, 1st Lt. Adam Rondeau said. Soldiers and Marines stationed at the detention facility responded, and the resulting clash and gunfight lasted about 40 minutes. No one escaped.
“This was obviously a very well-organized attack and a very big attack,” Rondeau said.
Officials have said that overall attacks have been declining in Iraq, but they also have noted that insurgents seem to be focusing their efforts on bigger, better organized operations.
It wasn’t immediately known if any of the insurgents carrying out the attack were arrested or suffered casualties. Plumes of smoke were seen rising from the area.
Abu Ghraib was at the center of a prisoner abuse scandal that broke out in 2004 when pictures showing soldiers piling naked inmates in a pyramid and humiliating them sexually became public. The resulting scandal tarnished the military’s image worldwide and sparked investigations of detainee abuses.
The United States is holding about 10,500 prisoners in Iraq.
Compromise on government
Also Saturday, Iraqi lawmakers struggling to form a government after the historic Jan. 30 elections appeared to have reached a compromise on the parliamentary speaker’s post, with the major coalitions backing Industry Minister Hajim al-Hassani as the favored candidate. Debate Tuesday on the issue caused the second session of the National Assembly to disintegrate into shouts and accusations.
Officials had said they might have to vote on several candidates, with Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance member Fawaz al-Jarba and Meshaan al-Jubouri also in the running.
But with only hours left before today’s session, al-Jubouri told the Associated Press that he would accept a compromise proposal in which he and al-Jarba would withdraw their names. Al-Jarba couldn’t be reached for comment.
All candidates for speaker were Sunni Arabs, an effort to reach out to the minority group once dominant under Saddam Hussein and believed to be the backbone of the country’s insurgency.
Negotiators also said they hoped to name the country’s new interim president – expected to be Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani – and his two vice presidents during today’s session.
Alliance members have agreed to nominate former nuclear scientist Hussain al-Shahristani as one of two deputy speakers and interim Finance Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi as one of the vice presidents. Kurdish judge Dara Nor al-Din is expected to be nominated for the second deputy to the parliament speaker post.
Interim President Ghazi al-Yawer, politicians Adnan Pachachi and Sharif Ali Bin Al-Hussein – all Sunni Arabs – were vying for the second vice president’s post, officials say.
Once in his post, Talabani and the vice presidents will name the new interim prime minister, likely Shiite politician Ibrahim al-Jaafari. After that, the legislative body has until mid-August to write a new constitution that will pave the way for new elections and a permanent government.
Authorities are hoping the formation of a new government that includes representatives from all of Iraq’ diverse ethnic and religious groups will help undermine the insurgency – and lead to an eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Baghdad official slain
But U.S. and Iraqi officials acknowledge they have a long way to go. Early Saturday, gunmen opened fire from a car in Baghdad, killing local official Hassib Zamil outside of the Education Ministry offices in the Sadr City neighborhood.
In the central city of Khan Bani Saad, a car bomb killed five people, including four police officers on patrol. Two police officers and three civilians also were wounded, provincial police Col. Mudafar al-Jubori said.
A car bomb also injured six Iraqis and set a house on fire in the northern city of Mosul, the U.S. military said. The attack happened Saturday as coalition soldiers, acting on a citizen’s tip, were arriving to investigate, the U.S. military said.
It also reported that a U.S. Marine was killed by enemy fire while conducting security operations in Ramadi on Friday.
In a separate statement, the U.S. military praised an edict issued by Sunni clerics that called for Iraqis to join police and army forces, saying it was a sign that people were fed up with the insurgency. But the statement added that enlistees “must be prepared to serve all the people.”
The edict, read Friday by a cleric in the influential Association of Muslim Scholars, instructed enlistees to refrain from helping foreign troops against their own countrymen. As the Iraq police and army grow, the edict said it wanted Sunnis to prevent security forces from falling into “the hands of those who have caused chaos, destruction and violated the sanctities.”
The announcement, endorsed by a group of 64 Sunni clerics and scholars, could help the new government boost the image of new police and soldiers struggling to fight the insurgency. For months, Sunni clerics had warned their faithful against cooperating with officials.