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Shamed US to hand over Abu Ghraib prison to Iraqis
by UK Guardian
Thursday Mar 10th, 2005 3:50 AM
Michael Howard in Baghdad
Thursday March 10, 2005
The Guardian
American forces have agreed to hand over control of the infamous Abu Ghraib prison to the newly elected Iraqi authorities in an attempt to draw a line under one of the most shameful episodes of the Iraq war.

Iraq's human rights minister, Bakhtiar Amin, yesterday told the Guardian that the US had agreed to the pullout at the four main detention facilities, including Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad, the prison at the centre of the abuse and torture scandal.

Two other locations in the centre of Iraq and a British run prison in the south will also be handed over to Iraqi control, although no deadline has been set, Mr Amin said.

He said he had requested the transfer of authority of the country's prisons from Major General William Brandenburg, the US commander of detention facilities in Iraq.

"We have discussed and asked that the detention centres be transferred to the Iraqis. They agreed to that," the human rights minister said. "It is an important sign of Iraq's new sovereignty that the new authorities take charge of its detainees and its detention facilities."

The prison was at the centre of a political storm after revelations of mistreatment and torture of Iraqi inmates by their US guards. The scandal was exposed last April with the publication of photographs and video film showing US soldiers abusing naked Iraqis and forcing them to perform sex acts.

The furore damaged the reputation of the US army and paved the way for the disclosure of other abuses of Iraqi detainees by foreign troops in Iraq, including by British soldiers in the largely Shia south.

Mr Amin, whose ministry monitors conditions in Iraq's US-run penal facilities, said the transfer will begin after the formation of the new Iraqi government, which is due to happen in the next few weeks.

The transfer would take place gradually and sensibly: "Iraq still needs time and international assistance and training to prepare and control and run and manage these prisons in a fit and proper way."

US military officials in Baghdad could not be reached for comment yesterday. But on Tuesday an army official said US forces were considering pulling out of Abu Ghraib because of a spate of attacks on the facility by insurgents. Last April, a barrage of 28 mortar rounds killed 22 prisoners and injured 91.

The army official said the US would probably transfer only high security detainees in Abu Ghraib to another facility at the US base at Baghdad's airport, while the majority of the "common criminals" would remain under Iraqi control.

The US-run prison system in Iraq is currently bloated with detainees. More than 10,000 are estimated to be behind bars - the highest number since the insurgency began in 2003. Their ranks have swollen during the crackdowns by US and Iraqi security forces before and after the January 30 elections.

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