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Iraq Transition

Escape tunnel found at Iraqi prison

Head count shows all 5,600 detainees still in custody

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. troops believe they have thwarted a massive escape from one of the coalition's main prison camps in Iraq, Pentagon officials have said.

A 600-foot-long (183-meter) escape tunnel with an exit point outside the prison camp walls was discovered Thursday at Camp Bucca in southeastern Iraq.

The tunnel is believed to have been dug with improvised tools. Military authorities discovered it after a tip initiated a campwide search.

The tunnel is about 10 feet below ground and 2 to 3 feet wide.

Pentagon officials did not know how long the tunnel had been under construction.

Camp Bucca houses about 5,600 detainees.

That no one had used it to escape so far was verified by a head count of prisoners, which found all accounted for.

But the tunnel appeared to be completed and ready to use, and officials speculate that detainees were waiting to use it when the weather turned poor and visibility on the ground was low.

The discovery of the tunnel also solved another mystery camp officials were trying to figure out.

Machinery that pumps sewage out of the prisoners' toilet system has been getting jammed with sand and dirt. Apparently, it was caused by soil that detainees have been disposing of while digging the tunnel.

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