The escaped prisoners included al-Qaeda suspects, said a provincial spokesman, although he could not say whether the terror group was behind the jailbreak in Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad.
It was the latest embarrassing security lapse in Iraq, raising questions about the Shi’ite-led government’s ability to ensure security in the wake of the US troop withdrawal in December.
The prison riot erupted on Thursday night, said Mohammed al-Assi, the spokesman for Salahuddin province where Tikrit is the provincial capital. Several inmates broke into the prison storeroom, grabbing weapons and overpowering the guards, he said.
The prisoners then engaged in a long gun battle with security troops inside the facility before breaking out hours later.
By yesterday morning, government troops had regained control of the prison, Mr Assi said, and a curfew was imposed in Tikrit.
A provincial health official, Raed Ibrahim, confirmed that 12 people died in the violence. He said 32 people were wounded in the clashes at the prison.