BAGHDAD — Gunmen attacked a prisoner convoy north of Baghdad on Thursday, setting off a gunbattle with troops in which scores of prisoners and eight soldiers were killed, underscoring Iraq's instability as lawmakers convened to elect a new president.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon arrived in Baghdad earlier Thursday, urging lawmakers to "find a common ground" so they can address the crisis sparked by the rapid advance of the Islamic State extremist group and allied Sunni militants across much of northern and western Iraq last month.
At a news conference with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Ban said Iraq is facing an "existential threat," but one that could be overcome if it forms a "thoroughly inclusive government." Ban added that political leaders in Baghdad and the largely autonomous Kurdish region have a "clear responsibility" to work together to protect their citizens.
The dawn attack began with militants firing mortar rounds on Iraqi army bases in the town of Taji, where suspects were being held on terrorism charges, prompting authorities to evacuate the facilities, fearing a jailbreak, officials said.
As the convoy traveled through a remote area nearby, roadside bombs went off and militants opened fire. The ensuing battle left 52 prisoners and eight soldiers dead, with another eight soldiers and seven prisoners wounded, they said. It was not immediately clear if the prisoners were killed by soldiers or militants, or if the Islamic State group was involved.
The town of Taji is located some 12 miles north of the capital.