U.S. and Iraqi soldiers were conducting operations in a town south of Baqubah when a local man approached them with information about the prison, Army Lt. Col. Morris Goins, commander of the 1st Cavalry Division's 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry, told reporters in a teleconference from Iraq's Diyala province.
Goins said he assigned D Company of the unit, commanded by Army Capt. Paul Carlock, to check out the report. As the unit approached, the soldiers encountered 41 Iraqis who had been held by al Qaeda in Iraq, Goins said.
"They showed some signs of torture," the colonel said. "We brought them back to an attack position, where we were able to give them some water, some food."
The unit then took the men to a combat outpost, where they received medical attention. The American and Iraqi units killed seven al Qaeda fighters in the operation and detained another 30, Goins said.
Carlock said some of the men, mostly Sunnis, had lash marks on their backs and rope burns on their wrists and ankles. Some had been held as long as four months. He said their main diet was figs and water.
One of the freed prisoners was a 13-year-old boy, Goins said, but most were provincial government workers and local merchants. Some Shiia hostages had been held at the prison, but al Qaeda had killed them all, the colonel added.
Goins and Carlock both said the operation shows that the local people are tired of al Qaeda in their communities. The coalition and Iraqi government forces are trying to drive a wedge between the terrorists and the population.
"We try to every day meet with local Iraqi leaders and then also leaders of the tribes,"Carlock said.
This contact, the officers said, helps to widen the division between the insurgents and the local population and allows the forces to develop intelligence sources.
"We have more sources today than we had yesterday and the day before that," Goins said. "So it's a growing and increased basis of intelligence coming in to both the Iraqi security forces and the coalition forces."
Goins said he hopes liberating the prison will have a positive effect on the attitude of the local citizens.
"If I were a local Iraqi and I would see that 41 Iraqi citizens were detained by al Qaeda, coalition forces helped secure their freedom, provided medical attention, were able to get them back to their family, it would show me that the international and the coalition forces are here to assist the Iraqi people and (would) live a peaceful life,"he said.
He added that he hopes the 41 people freed in the operation and now back with their families will pass along their experiences to their friends and relatives.
"That will ensure that the Iraqi people understand that the Iraqi security forces as well as coalition forces are here to provide security with their assistance to allow them to have a democratic government and live a peaceful existence as the majority of the international community does,"he said.
Talk Show America 5/31/2007