"We are investigating 22 policemen who have been detained, to find out about the escape of the terrorists," Kirkuk provincial police chief Jamal Taher Bakr told AFP, adding that local police were hunting for those on the run.
Deputy Interior Minister Adnan al-Assadi told AFP on a visit to Kirkuk that authorities had opened an investigation into the prison break, and that security forces rearrested one of the 19 men in the Kurdish regional capital of Arbil. "Clearly there is some collaboration and negligence," Assadi said. "This escape could not have happened unless there were people who helped them."
Assadi said the escaped prisoners included 11 charged with terror-related offences, and that some of them had been held in custody since 2006. The group of 19 fled Al-Tasfirat prison in central Kirkuk, 240 kilometres (150 miles) north of Baghdad, early on Friday morning.
They apparently drugged guards and fellow inmates using narcotic-laced dates that put them to sleep before breaking out of the jail.
The prisoners were alleged Al-Qaeda insurgents and fighters belonging to Ansar al-Sunna, a Salafist group that has claimed several attacks against US and Iraqi security forces. Jailbreaks and prison unrest are relatively common in Iraq.
In January, 11 inmates tunnelled out of a prison in the northern Kurdish province of Dohuk, and in September, 14 prisoners charged with terror offences escaped from jail in the northern city of Mosul, also through a tunnel.