BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi authorities enforced a curfew Saturday on Saddam Hussein's hometown so that security forces could track down scores of fugitives including al-Qaida-linked militants who escaped from a prison there, authorities said.
The Interior Minister meanwhile said the jailbreak at the Tasfirat prison in Tikrit, 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Baghdad, was an inside job. It put the death toll at 20, including 16 inmates and four guards.
Of 303 inmates at the prison, 102 escaped in the jailbreak, including 47 al-Qaida-linked inmates awaiting execution. Some 23 were recaptured, the statement said.
Mohammed al-Assi, a spokesman for Salahuddin province where the city is located, said Saturday that a curfew was imposed after the Friday jailbreak and remained in force. "The security forces have intensified efforts to hunt down those still on the run," he said.
The new security breach drew sharp criticism of the Iraqi security forces, who have been unable to stabilize the country almost a year after the withdrawal of U.S. troops. It follows several smaller escapes and attempted jailbreaks that have deeply embarrassed Iraq's government, which is eager to demonstrate it can run its justice and detention systems.
The ministry there was "clear collusion" between some guards and inmates in the Tasfirat prison. Weapons were brought into the prison during family visits, and wardens left locks inside the facility open.
"The cells were not searched for a long period, which indicates more deliberate negligence that led to this incident," it said.
The break began when inmates seized weapons and clashed with security guards in an hours-long standoff.
After taking over a large part of the prison, the rioters used other inmates as human shields in order to make their way out, the late Friday statement said.
The Interior Ministry statement also said that Salahuddin police chief, Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim al-Khazraji, was sacked.
Authorities earlier reported 12 people dead and 32 wounded in the break.
Prison escapes have frequently occurred in Iraq.
The Tikrit prison itself was moved to a different location after 16 prisoners, including five al-Qaida-linked inmates awaiting execution, made their escape after plying open the bars on a prison bathroom window with a pipe wrench in September 2009.
At the time, the entire prison staff and the provincial prison official were detained for questioning. Six of the escaped inmates were later captured.
In 2010, a dozen detainees held on terrorism charges broke out of a prison in the southern city of Basra, disguised in police uniforms. And last year, al-Qaida smuggled weapons and grenades into a prison in Mosul, supposedly one of the country's most secure detention centers, and attempted an ultimately unsuccessful jailbreak that left 17 dead.
In July 2011, detainees linked to al-Qaida escaped at least twice from a Baghdad area prison known as Camp Cropper shortly after the U.S. handed it over to Iraqi authorities.
Associated Press writer Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report.