Inmates attack guards at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison

Inmates at Abu Ghraib prison riot, starting a fire and attacking guards, prompting authorities to call in Iraqi troops and American helicopters for support.

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BAGHDAD // Inmates at Abu Ghraib prison started a fire and attacked guards, prompting authorities to call in Iraqi troops and American helicopters for support, the US military said today. The unrest began when three inmates started a fire in their cell yesterday and tried to overpower guards in an apparent escape attempt, US military spokesman Master Sgt Nicholas Conner said. Iraqi media reported that the Iraqi security forces fired shots during the riot and that an unspecified number of inmates were killed, but Deputy Justice Minister Busho Ibrahim said there were no fatalities. Prison authorities called in the Iraqi military to help quell the disturbance inside, while the US provided helicopter support to monitor areas outside the prison, Sgt Conner said.

Iraqi authorities reported that three Iraqi guards and three prisoners were injured before security forces regained control, Sgt Conner said. The prison, notorious since the 2004 release of photos showing US soldiers abusing prisoners, is now back under Iraqi control. Eleven US soldiers were eventually convicted of crimes at the prison.

Local reports on the incident varied widely. One said the disturbance was a clash between Sunni and Shiite inmates, while another said it was an organised 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 peacefully," said spokesman Ahmed al Masoudi in a statement on the bloc's website. Elsewhere, Iraqi army Col Rebwar Younis said the casualty toll from a suicide lorry bombing yesterday in the northern Kurdish village of Wardek had risen to 25 dead and 50 injured as more bodies were pulled from the rubble of destroyed homes. The bomb flattened a neighbourhood in the village, about 55 kilometres south-east of Mosul. There were no claims of responsibility for the bombing, but it bore the hallmarks of al Qa'eda in Iraq and other Sunni insurgents who remain active in Mosul and surrounding areas in Ninevah province - a region where US commanders have warned that insurgents appear to be trying to stoke an Arab-Kurdish conflict. It prompted calls from Kurdish lawmakers for the government to step up security in northern Iraq.

* AP