BAGHDAD — More than three dozen insurgents launched an audacious strike Saturday against the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, wounding 44 U.S. troops and 13 Iraqi detainees.
The large-scale attack represented a rare direct assault against a well-fortified U.S. position. It was also one of the more sophisticated strikes against American troops since President Saddam Hussein was toppled from power two years ago.
Between 40 and 60 heavily armed men swarmed the prison, detonating two car bombs and peppering the facility with rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms and mortar fire.
"First they attacked at one corner to make us think that's where they were coming from, then they attacked at another corner," said Lt. Col. Guy Rudisill, military spokesman for detainee affairs. "This was a well-coordinated attack. This is something that we have not seen before."
At least one insurgent was killed, military officials said. Six U.S. soldiers and one Iraqi detainee suffered serious wounds and were evacuated for treatment, Rudisill said. One of the car bombs was detonated as rescuers attempted to treat the wounded, a witness told Reuters.
Prisoners inside the facility suffered mostly shrapnel and bullet wounds in the attack, which occurred about 7 p.m.
About 3,500 suspected insurgents and criminals are being held at the massive complex on the western outskirts of Baghdad. The number has risen sharply in recent months because of more aggressive U.S. and Iraqi raids, Rudisill said.
Before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Abu Ghraib was Hussein's most infamous prison. After taking control of Iraq, U.S. forces began housing captured insurgents there.
Last year, shocking photographs of prisoner abuse and sexual humiliation of detainees by U.S. soldiers guarding Abu Ghraib circulated around the world. The resulting scandal led to the prosecution of several soldiers and fueled anti-American sentiments throughout the Middle East.
Since U.S. forces have taken control of the prison, insurgents have frequently lobbed mortar rounds inside but not engaged in the type of head-on assault that took place Saturday.
Attackers have typically remained hidden, working in small groups or on suicide missions and striking from a distance.
Saturday's attack was one of the largest against U.S. forces since Iraq's Jan. 30 election.
It was unclear whether the attackers hoped to free detainees, but "no prisoners were compromised," said Lt. Col. Steven Boylan, a military spokesman in Baghdad.
U.S. soldiers and Marines, who use the prison as a military base as well as a place to house suspected insurgents, fought off the attack in less than an hour.
Nearly two weeks ago, several dozen insurgents launched a similar strike against a U.S. convoy traveling south of the capital. Military officials said 26 insurgents were killed.
North of Baghdad, a car bomb Saturday killed five Iraqis near Baqubah. The victims included four police officers who approached a suspicious-looking vehicle seconds before it blew up, witnesses said.
"As [one of the officers] tried to open the car door, it exploded," said an Iraqi police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity. The car was parked near a police headquarters that had been attacked before. Two Iraqi policemen and a civilian were also injured.
In Ramadi, a Marine with the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force was fatally shot Friday, U.S. military officials said Saturday.
In another incident there, a car bomb damaged three U.S. vehicles Saturday, said Capt. Lafee Hassan, an Iraqi national guardsman.
In Baghdad on Saturday morning, a deputy director of education, Hasib Zamil Lafta, was slain by gunmen as he went to work, an official said.
Times correspondents in Fallouja and Baqubah contributed to this report.