BAGHDAD, Iraq – Prisoners at Iraq's largest detention facility protested the transfer of several detainees deemed "unruly" by authorities, throwing rocks and setting tents on fire in a disturbance that injured four guards and 12 detainees, the military said Monday.
Friday's protest was the first of at least three violent incidents at Iraqi prisons during the past four days, with the latest occurring Monday at the notorious Abu Ghraib (search) facility. A homicide bomber driving a tractor blew himself up outside the prison, wounding four civilians.
On Saturday, insurgents attacked Abu Ghraib with rocket-propelled grenades and two car bombs, wounding dozens of U.S. service members and prisoners, the U.S. military said.
Friday's protest at Camp Bucca (search) — which holds about 6,000 prisoners, nearly two-thirds of all those in Iraq — caused only minor injuries before being brought under control, authorities said.
Murtadha al-Hajaj, an official at radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's (search) office in the southern city of Umm Qasr, near Camp Bucca, said several al-Sadr supporters were wounded during the confrontation. He said they were protesting a lack of access to medical treatment and claimed U.S. guards opened fire, although he did not know if they wounded prisoners.
U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Guy Rudisill said he did not know if the guards opened fire, but he denied that any detainee was deprived of medical treatment.
Last month, the U.S. military said guards discovered a 600-foot tunnel — dug with makeshift tools — leading out of Camp Bucca. The tunnel reached beyond the compound fence, with an opening hidden beneath a floorboard, but no one had escaped, authorities said.
The other facility targeted by insurgents, Abu Ghraib, was at the center of the prison abuse scandal last year after photographs were publicized showing U.S. soldiers humiliating Iraqi inmates, including having them pile naked in a human pyramid. The United States holds nearly 3,500 prisoners at Abu Ghraib and about 7,000 elsewhere in Iraq.
Rudisill said prison officials heard Monday's explosion, but he said it wasn't close enough to cause any damage to the prison. The blast killed the tractor's driver and injured four Iraqis, police 1st Lt. Akram al-Zubaeyee said.
Al Qaeda in Iraq said 10 of its fighters died in Saturday's assault on Abu Ghraib, while the U.S. military put the insurgents' casualties at one dead and about 50 wounded. Forty-four American soldiers and 13 prisoners were injured in the fighting — the latest in a series of large-scale attacks by insurgents in Iraq.
In an Internet posting, al Qaeda in Iraq claimed about 20 militants scaled the prison's walls and one of them reached a prison tower and yelled: "God is great!" It said two of its fighters were wounded and 10 were killed, including seven homicide bombers.
The statement, which appeared late Sunday, was impossible to independently verify, and it conflicted with the U.S. account.
The U.S. military denied anyone got inside the prison and said no inmates escaped. It said only one homicide bomber participated, while others fired assault rifles, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.
Rudisill said he did not believe any attackers were captured. He said the wounded insurgents either escaped on their own or were dragged away by other militants.
The military said the insurgents staged simultaneous assaults on multiple locations at the prison, focusing on two guard towers and then using a car bomb to try to penetrate a gate.
Combat helicopters helped push back the attack, which was the largest at Abu Ghraib since insurgents fired mortar rounds into the compound nearly a year ago, killing more than 20 detainees and injuring nearly 100.
Also, the military said a detainee evacuated from an unnamed facility to the 115th Field Hospital died Monday after suffering gunshot wounds two weeks ago during an attack on U.S.-led coalition forces. The incident is under investigation, the military said in a statement.
Some Iraqi lawmakers have called for the release of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib, and the National Assembly's newly elected speaker, Hajim al-Hassani, told Al-Jazeera television the topic will be among the first discussed by lawmakers.
"There are some problems regarding the security issue and troubles concerning Abu Ghraib detainees," he said. "These issues will be the main subject we are concerned about in the National Assembly."
President Bush called al-Hassani on Monday to congratulate him on becoming parliament speaker.
"The two leaders expressed confidence that democracy will succeed in Iraq," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. "The president reiterated our commitment of continued support for Iraq as they move forward."
Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, also congratulated al-Hassani, saying his election was "a hopeful sign as you begin the assembly's tasks, including laying down the constitution."
The selection of al-Hassani, a Sunni Arab, ended weeks of bickering and cleared the way for the formation of a government more than two months after Iraq's first free election in 50 years. Legislators next meet Wednesday, when they plan to name Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani as Iraq's president.
Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan said Monday that most of Iraq's neighbors — including Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia — are helping Iraq's government fight terrorism.
"The terrorist attacks have been limited now because of the cooperation of the neighboring countries," said Shaalan, who previously accused Iran and Syria of supporting insurgents in Iraq.
He also welcomed an edict issued Friday by Sunni clerics that called for Iraqis to join the police and army. "The Iraqi army will accept the new waves of volunteers," Shaalan said.
The edict, read by a cleric in the Association of Muslim Scholars, instructed enlistees to refrain from helping foreign troops against their own countrymen. It said Sunnis should join to prevent the police and army from falling into "the hands of those who have caused chaos, destruction and violated the sanctities."
On Monday, a bomb exploded at a cafe in the northern city of Talafar, killing two civilians and injuring 13, local official Salem al-Haj Eissa said. He speculated the bomb was intended for Iraqi army soldiers who frequent the cafe but said no soldiers were thought to be there.
In the same city, on Saturday, an American soldier was killed and another was wounded by insurgent gunfire, the U.S. military said Monday.