Iraq News
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Iraq fortifies prisons against ISIL attacks

By Khalid al-Taie

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Prison guards in the Dhi Qar province city of Nasiriyah take part in a training session on how to deal with dangerous prisoners. [Photo courtesy of Nasiriyah central prison]

The Iraqi government has approved a new plan to fortify the country's prisons by introducing an advanced electronic management and monitoring system.

The plan aims to repel any possible "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) attacks on prisons to free its leaders and elements, officials told Mawtani.

The ministries of justice and interior developed the "Impregnable Wall" plan over six months in order to secure all prisons and correctional facilities, said Ministry of Justice reform department director Hussein Khalid al-Askari.

"Security and emergency measures will be reviewed, and fortifications and security cordons around prison walls will be enhanced," he said.

Modern systems and technology for surveillance, monitoring and tracking also will be used, he added.

The reform department is collaborating with security agencies to ensure the plan's success, he said, and to "develop prison management so as to help strengthen security and safety in these vital facilities".

"Over the next few months, the Impregnable Wall plan will be implemented in all correctional facilities to support their security systems and improve efforts to protect them," al-Askari said.

Electronic surveillance system

Under the new plan, an advanced electronic system for prison guarding and management will replace the traditional measures currently in use, which rely heavily on human oversight, said deputy governor of Baghdad Jassim Boukhati.

"There will be greater reliance on technical support by deploying advanced surveillance cameras and electronic management and control technologies at the entrances and exits, walls and watch towers of prisons," he told Mawtani.

The new plan has been developed "in line with human rights principles", he said.

"Smart management of prisons and correctional facilities will raise the quality and efficiency of professional performance and eliminate cases of corruption or incompetence and neglect in the fulfilment of duties," he said.

Incompetence and neglect have been a leading cause of the mass escape of prisoners, as was the case in Baghdad, Nassiriya, Basra and Mosul, he added.

On July 21st, 2013, al-Qaeda carried out a large-scale attack on the central prison of Baghdad (formerly Abu Ghraib) and that of al-Taji (al-Hout prison) with car bombs, explosive belts and mortar shells.

This led to the escape of close to 600 inmates from the two prisons, many of whom were dangerous extremists, in one of the largest mass escapes in Iraq.

Future breakouts 'highly unlikely'

Boukhati said a repeat of mass escapes such as those ones is highly unlikely due to heightened security measures around prisons.

However, he added, "we are in a large-scale war with terrorism and must take extreme caution since the enemy is always betting on the element of surprise, and therefore vigilance is required at all times".

He welcomed the plan for prison fortification, saying it will help thwart any terrorist attempt "to threaten prisons' security and smuggle out prisoners".

The heavy losses ISIL has sustained in Iraq could push it to renew its attacks on prisons, said Jassim Hanoun, security expert and former Interior Ministry official.

"The group has lost senior commanders, and the number of its fighters and suicide bombers is declining daily," he told Mawtani.

It is therefore possible that ISIL will resort to attacking prisons to make up for that shortage and to claim it is still making gains, he added.

The approval of a new plan to protect prisons against attacks by introducing advanced technology is "a step in the right direction, and will help have an early response system in place to thwart any terrorist attempts", Hanoun said.

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