Guards and al-Qa'ida prisoners are killed in Baghdad jailbreak skirmish

Eighteen people, including a senior Iraqi counter-terrorism official and an al-Qa'ida leader, died in a battle between inmates and security officers during a jailbreak attempt in Baghdad yesterday.

Huthaifa al-Batawi, known as the "Emir of Baghdad" and accused of a deadly attack on a Catholic church, was killed along with 10 other senior al-Qa'ida militants, said the city's security spokesman, Major-General Qassim al-Moussawi.

The skirmish at an interior ministry counter-terrorism jail complex in Baghdad's central Karrada district began when a prisoner grabbed a gun from a guard, killed several guards and ministry officers, and gave a weapon to other inmates.

Inmates controlled a section of the jail for several hours before a Swat team brought the siege to an end, security officials said. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered an investigation into the incident and urged security forces to be especially vigilant. "We must not allow such setbacks to happen in the security field," Mr Maliki said.

Iraqi forces are preparing to take sole responsibility for security ahead of a full withdrawal of US troops from Iraq by 31 December in line with a joint security pact.

The jail housed about 250 inmates, many of them members of al-Qa'ida, one source said.