An ISIS Jailbreak at Abu Ghraib: “Hell Is Coming”

October 28, 2014

Fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria. The group has since swept into Iraq, taking the cities of Ramadi, Fallujah and Mosul. (AP Photo/militant website, File) (AP Photo/militant website, File)

In July 2013, ISIS staged an attack on the infamous Abu Ghraib prison, freeing more than 500 people.

The Rise of ISIS, premiering tonight on FRONTLINE, explains that the attack on Abu Ghraib — where leaked images years before had shown American guards humiliating Iraqi inmates — came at a crucial time.

President Obama had brought U.S. troops home in December 2011. Despite pledging to share power with Sunnis, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki purged prominent Sunni leaders from his government. Across the country, Sunnis staged large demonstrations demanding representation. One protest exploded into violence in the town of Hawijah in April 2013. Although it’s unclear which side provoked the violence, Maliki’s forces are estimated to have killed hundreds of demonstrators.

ISIS seized on the Hawijah attack to press for violent rebellion. Its numbers quickly grew. Then came the raid on Abu Ghraib.

“It was a huge propaganda win for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” Ned Parker, Reuters’ bureau chief in Baghdad, told FRONTLINE. “The prison bust out was a statement of purpose that ‘We’re here. What started after Hawija, in terms of the bombings, the spike in violence, we’re orchestrating this. And hell is coming.'”

Watch an excerpt from the film below:

How did ISIS become a major force so quickly? And what does it mean for the U.S. to be back in Iraq, fighting a new war on terror, less than three years after American troops pulled out of the country? We hope you’ll join us tonight for The Rise of ISIS, which premieres on-air and online at 10 pm ET (check local listings).

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