TIKRIT Militants attacked a prison in the Iraqi city of Tikrit late on Thursday, freeing dozens of inmates and clashing with security guards in the surrounding area, security sources and an eyewitness said.
The prison, which housed several hundred inmates, many of whom are suspected of links with al-Qaeda, was attacked by unidentified gunmen following a car bomb explosion outside the main gate.
"Until now, the prison is in the hands of the gunmen. We are raiding them from time to time, but are faced by their fire," said one security source, who was participating in efforts to regain control of the jail.
The number of escaped prisoners was not yet clear.
A curfew was imposed on the city, once home to now-executed former president Saddam Hussein.
Iraq's conflict has eased since its height in 2006-2007 when sectarian slaughter killed thousands. But Sunni Islamists and an al Qaeda affiliate still launch regular attacks, seeking to destabilise the country and undermine its Shi'ite-led government.
Prison breaks are not uncommon in Iraq. Last September, 35 prisoners facing terrorism charges escaped via a sewage pipe from a temporary jail in the northern city of Mosul, an al Qaeda stronghold.
(Reporting by Ghazwan Hassan and Raheem Salman; Writing by Isabel Coles; Editing by Myra MacDonald)