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Hundreds escape from infamous Abu Ghraib prison

BAGHDAD -- Iraqi security forces locked down areas around the infamous Abu Ghraib prison and another high-security detention facility on Baghdad's outskirts yesterday to hunt for escaped inmates and militants after daring insurgent assaults set hundreds of detainees free.

The carefully orchestrated late-night attacks killed dozens Sunday, including at least 25 members of the Iraqi security forces.

Insurgents fired mortar shells and detonated suicide and car bombs, drawing Iraqi forces into firefights that lasted more than an hour.

Attacks elsewhere claimed at least 18 more lives yesterday, many of them soldiers, highlighting the rapidly deteriorating security conditions across Iraq.

The prisons in Abu Ghraib and Taji house thousands of prisoners, including convicted al-Qaida militants.

Exactly one year ago, al-Qaida's Iraq arm began a campaign called "Breaking the Walls" that made freeing its imprisoned members a top priority.

A surge of violence across Iraq has killed more than 3,000 people since the start of April, and the assaults on the prisons laid bare the degree to which security has eroded in the country in recent months.

The spike in bloodshed is intensifying fears of a return to the widespread sectarian killing that pushed the country to the brink of civil war after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Several officials, including lawmakers on parliament's security and defense committee, said more than 500 inmates managed to escape from Abu Ghraib. There were no immediate reports of escapes from Taji.

Curfews were imposed around both prisons as manhunts got underway. Guards at Taji appeared visibly on edge, with rifles at the ready and wary police warning motorists not to idle nearby. -- AP

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