Fire ledende medlemmer av al Qaida i Irak flyktet fra et fengsel i Bagdad, fem dager etter at irakerne hadde overtatt ansvar for fengselet. Flere av vaktene skal ha uteblitt etter at fangene flyktet.

The men, members of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, escaped from the Camp Cropper prison complex just outside Baghdad on Tuesday, five days after it was transferred to Iraqi control as part of American preparations to withdraw. The missing men include the group’s minister of finance, its minister of the interior and its minister of justice, the security officials said, without naming them. The standing of a fourth escapee was unclear.

Iraqi officials announced Thursday that four men who had been captured by American forces and held for about 15 months had escaped two days earlier, without specifying their importance.

On Friday, the United States military in Iraq declined to answer questions on the escape.

It remains unknown how the four men were able to make their way out of the highly secured prison, but Iraq’s minister of justice, Dara Nurredin Dara, said Friday that the jail’s American-assigned warden, Omar Hamis Hamadi, was missing as well. “We were told that he was trustworthy and had a good reputation,” Mr. Dara said.

Other Iraqi security officials said that several guards had failed to report to work since the escape.

The episode raises fresh questions about the functionality of Iraq’s security system as American forces prepare to leave.

High-level suspects have disappeared from Iraqi detention with maddening frequency. On Friday, the British Embassy in Baghdad said the British foreign secretary had raised concerns with Iraq’s foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, about the recent disappearance of the man convicted in the 2004 kidnapping and murder of a British-Iraqi aid worker, Margaret Hassan. The man, Ali Lufti Jassar al-Rawi, was in custody and appealing his conviction when he disappeared.

The American military continues to operate one of the prison’s blocs at the request of the Iraqi government, overseeing about 200 inmates, including members of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a homegrown Sunni group, and officials who had been part of Saddam Hussein’s government. The men escaped from the Iraqi-controlled part of the prison. Iraqi insurgents praised the prison break in a statement that appeared Friday on a Web site that carries messages from a group affiliated with Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the Islamic State of Iraq.

“Leaders from the Islamic State of Iraq were able to escape from Cropper Prison,” the message read in part. “And no one from the apostates has been able to find them 36 hours after their escape.”

Sunni extremists sometimes use the term “apostates” to describe the majority Shiites, who control Iraq’s government.

Top Insurgents Escaped Prison Days After Iraq Took Over

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