- The Washington Times - Monday, March 15, 2010

TAJI, Iraq — The U.S. military handed over control of a prison holding some 2,900 detainees to Iraqi authorities on Monday as the Americans move ahead with preparations for a full withdrawal by the end of 2011.

Most of the Taji prison’s detainees are low-level and midlevel insurgents who were arrested by American troops, said Maj. Gen. David Quantock, commander of detainee operations. A small number have been convicted of crimes, he said.

Control of prisons is a sensitive issue for many Iraqis. Torture was widespread in Iraqi prisons under the regime of former dictator Saddam Hussein before his fall in the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. And the scandal following the release of photos showing American troops mistreating detainees in the Abu Ghraib prison sparked outrage across Iraq and the Arab world.

Taji is the second prison to be relinquished by the United States as it moves to release thousands of detainees or transfer them to Iraqi custody before the end of this year, according to an agreement. Camp Bucca, an isolated desert prison that was once the largest lockup in Iraq, was closed in September.

That leaves only one prison in Iraq in American hands. The U.S. military said it plans a July 15 handover of Camp Cropper, which has held high-level detainees such as Saddam Hussein and members of his regime on the outskirts of Baghdad. The roughly 2,900 detainees in Camp Cropper are currently the only Iraqi detainees in American custody, the U.S. military said.

At the Iraqi government’s request, the United States will continue to hold about 100 detainees who pose a high security risk, Gen. Quantock said, although he was not more specific about who would be kept in custody.

U.S. troops have detained some 90,000 Iraqis since the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam in 2003, Gen. Quantock said, adding that about 7,800 have been turned over to Iraqi authorities since the start of 2009.

American and Iraqi officials said the Taji prison, inside a large American military base of the same name 12 miles north of Baghdad, had been redesigned as a model prison for Iraq.

The $107 million facility can hold more than 5,000 prisoners and is equipped with medical, court and educational facilities, a carpentry shop and a brick factory, Gen. Quantock said. Its more than 2,100- person staff has been trained in human rights regulations and modern management techniques.

Iraqi Justice Minister Dara Noureddin described the handover as a step toward Iraqi sovereignty and as a way for Iraqis to overcome past prison abuses.

He said the Iraqi government seeks “for these prisons to be real correctional facilities, not places for vengeance and torture, as they were under the ousted dictatorial regime.”

Associated Press writer Hamid Ahmed contributed to this report from Baghdad.

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