AFP - A local Al-Qaeda chief known as "Imad the killer" escaped in a pre-dawn breakout from an Iraqi police station on Friday, triggering a wild shootout that left 13 militants and Iraqi policemen dead.
Imad Ahmed Farhan, who police say has admitted to murdering at least 100 people, is on the run with two other "emirs" or local leaders of Al-Qaeda who broke out of their cells in a police station in the western city of Ramadi.
"During an exchange of fire between prisoners trying to escape and police officers in the station, six policemen and seven prisoners were killed," provincial police chief Tareq al-Dulaimi said.
The three prisoners managed to flee but one was recaptured, Dulaimi said, adding that another four policemen were wounded in the shootout that occurred at 2 am (2300 GMT Thursday) at Forsan police station in the centre of Ramadi.
Ramadi police have imposed a curfew in the city following the incident, an interior ministry source said.
The source said a prisoner wanting to go to the toilet was escorted from his cell by a policeman at 2 am, kicking off what appeared to be a well-planned operation.
"The policeman was overpowered by the inmate who seized his weapon and shot him," the source said.
"He then opened up the other cells and and he and his fellow prisoners grabbed weapons from the police station's armoury, opening fire on the policemen."
The prisoners battled police for two hours before officers managed to regain control of the station, a local police official said. The recaptured prisoner suffered minor injuries.
Farhan is locally know as "Imad Omaya" which in Arabic means "Imad the Killer."
On Friday the streets of Ramadi, a city of 540,000 people, were deserted and shops were shut as a heavy police presence fanned out in an urgent hunt for the Al-Qaeda escapees, an AFP reporter said.
The predominantly Sunni Arab city, which is the capital of Anbar province, was a key Al-Qaeda stronghold in the aftermath of the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime by US-led forces in 2003.
Iraq's biggest province became the theatre of a brutal war focused on the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, while a string of towns along the Euphrates valley became insurgent strongholds and later safe havens for Al-Qaeda.
But since 2006 local Sunni tribes there have sided with the US military to fight the jihadists. Daily violence has dropped dramatically in Anbar as Al-Qaeda fighters have been pushed out of the region.
In September, US marines turned over control of Anbar to about 28,000 Iraqi police and another 8,000 troops.
East of the city of Fallujah, also in Anbar province, a policeman was killed on Friday by gunfire when a driver tried to ram his in an explosives-rigged truck into a police checkpoint, local police said.
The driver opened fire as he sped towards them before police shot him dead, averting the explosion of the vehicle.
Two Iraqi soldiers were also killed in the town of Balad Ruz in the restive province of Diyala by a roadside bomb targeting their patrol.