Baghdad: Following a prison break on Sunday that included several Al-Qaeda suspects, authorities imposed a curfew in the Iraqi city of Tikrit, officials said.

"A curfew was imposed in the city to facilitate the search for escaped prisoners," said Ali Hashem, a local council member of central Salaheddin province, of which Tikrit is the capital.

The number of escaped prisoners was not immediately known, but several were suspected Al-Qaeda members, a local security official said on condition of anonymity.

He said a Sunday prison brawl had deteriorated into clashes with the guards.

"The detainees started a fire, and prisoners took advantage of the ensuing confusion to escape. Several were Al-Qaeda suspects," he said, adding that the prison had about 400 inmates.

Al-Qaeda suspects are often held without trial in Iraq.

Tikrit, about 160 kilometres north of Baghdad, is the former stronghold of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator ousted in the 2003 US-led invasion and later tried and hanged.

Jail breaks are relatively common in Iraq, where 12 suspected Al-Qaeda members escaped from prison in the southern city of Basra in mid-January. At least two have been re-captured.

In September 2009, 16 other Al-Qaeda suspects fled from another detention facility in Tikrit.

Between 24,000 and 25,000 inmates are held in Iraqi prisons, according to Justice Minister Hassan al-Shammal.

(Agencies)