I did a doubletake when I first read that number. 500? And most of the leadership?
Iraq, already in a world of hurt, is in great peril.
Hundreds of convicts, including senior members of al Qaeda, broke out of Iraq's Abu Ghraib jail as comrades launched a military-style assault to free them, authorities said on Monday.
A simultaneous attack on another prison, in Taji, around 20 km (12 miles) north of Baghdad, followed a similar pattern, but guards managed to prevent any inmates escaping. Sixteen soldiers and six militants were killed.
The deadly raid on the high-security jail happened as Sunni Muslim militants are gaining momentum in their insurgency against the Shi'ite-led government that came to power after the U.S. invasion to oust Saddam Hussein.
Suicide bombers drove cars packed with explosives to the gates of the prison on the outskirts of Baghdad on Sunday night and blasted their way into the compound, while gunmen attacked guards with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.
Other militants took up positions near the main road, fighting off security reinforcements sent from Baghdad as several militants wearing suicide vests entered the prison on foot to help free the inmates.
Ten policemen and four militants were killed in the ensuing clashes, which continued until Monday morning, when military helicopters arrived, helping to regain control.
By that time, hundreds of inmates had succeeded in fleeing Abu Ghraib, the prison made notorious a decade ago by photographs showing abuse of prisoners by U.S. soldiers.
"The number of escaped inmates has reached 500, most of them were convicted senior members of al Qaeda and had received death sentences," Hakim Al-Zamili, a senior member of the security and defense committee in parliament, told Reuters.
"The security forces arrested some of them, but the rest are still free."
One security official told Reuters on condition of anonymity: "It's obviously a terrorist attack carried out by al Qaeda to free convicted terrorists with al Qaeda."
What do you suppose 500 trained terrorists could do in Iraq? The Sunni insurgency has just gotten that much stronger and the violence will now escalate to levels not seen since perhaps 2007.
The Shias aren't going to sit still and take it. They have already car bombed some Sunni mosques and neighborhoods. We should expect that Shia terrorists will take the violence to the next level as well.
Meanwhile, work continues on our $1.5 billion embassy. I wonder if there will be a country left when it's complete?