Gunmen storm Iraqi prison
The attackers freed 33 prisoners, including 18 insurgents detained Sunday.
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- About 100 masked gunmen stormed a prison near the Iranian border Tuesday, cutting phone wires, freeing all the inmates and leaving behind a scene of devastation and carnage -- 20 dead policemen, burned-out cars and a smoldering jail house.
At least 10 attackers were killed in the dawn assault on the Muqdadiyah lockup on the eastern fringe of the Sunni Triangle, police said. The raid showed the mostly Sunni militants can still assemble a large force, capable of operating in the region virtually at will -- even though U.S. and Iraqi military officials said last year that the area was no longer an insurgent stronghold.
The insurgency's strength, spiraling sectarian violence and the stalemate over forming a government in Iraq have led politicians and foreign policy experts to say Iraq is on the brink or perhaps in the midst of civil war.
In all, 33 prisoners were freed, including 18 insurgents who were detained Sunday during raids by security forces in the nearby villages of Sansal and Arab, police said. It was the capture of those insurgents that apparently prompted Tuesday's attack.
The 15 other inmates were a mix of suspected insurgents and common criminals.
In an Internet posting Tuesday night, the military wing of the Mujaheddin Shura Council, a militant Sunni Muslim insurgent group, purportedly claimed it carried out the operation. The posting said the group killed "40 policemen, liberated 33 prisoners and captured weapons."
Bush press conference
Meanwhile, President Bush said Tuesday that U.S. troops will be in Iraq until after his presidency ends almost three years from now.
Asked at a White House news conference whether there will come a time when no U.S. forces are in Iraq, he said, "That will be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq." Pressed on that response, the president said that for him to discuss complete withdrawal would mean he was setting a timetable, which he refuses to do.
In the hastily called, 57-minute news conference, the president said he didn't believe that Iraq had tumbled into a civil war and suggested that success stories there are overshadowed by news coverage of dramatic insurgent attacks.
In other developments:
Iran's Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Tuesday that he approves of proposed talks between U.S. and Iranian officials on Iraq, but warned that the United States must not try to "bully" Iran. It was the first confirmation that Khamenei, who holds final say on all state matters in Iran, supports the talks. His comments appeared aimed at calming criticism by hard-liners over a major shift in policy by the regime, which long shunned high-level contacts with a country Tehran brands "the Great Satan."
An Army dog handler was found guilty Tuesday of using his military dog to terrorize and humiliate detainees at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison at the height of a wave of prisoner abuses. A military jury in Fort Meade, Md., found Sgt. Michael J. Smith guilty on six of 13 charges that the soldier used his unmuzzled dog to harass and threaten inmates at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 and early 2004.