Last U.S.-Run Prison Handed Over to Iraqis Ahead of Withdrawal

U.S. forces transferred the last American-run detention facility in Iraq to the government in Baghdad at a ceremony today, the military said in an e-mailed statement.

The maximum-security site on the outskirts of Baghdad airport has held a total of about 100,000 inmates since opening just after the U.S.-led invasion more than seven years ago. Saddam Hussein was jailed there before his execution in 2006, along with former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, who was handed over to Iraqi authorities yesterday.

The transfer is part of the Status of Armed Forces Agreement between the U.S. and Iraq, which paves the way for the exit of American troops by the end of 2011. The Obama administration will have scaled back its force to about 50,000 by the end of August from a peak of about 165,000 in 2007.

The top U.S. military commander in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, said in a July 13 briefing the military had been training and preparing Iraqis to run Camp Cropper, which holds about 1,500 detainees and has a capacity of 4,000.

“We have been working for a year on the turnover,” Odierno said. “This isn’t something that happened overnight.”

Iraq’s Justice Ministry will change the name from Camp Cropper to al-Karkh, the Iraqi al-Sumaria news agency said.

The U.S. will manage power, water and waste management services to the center until Dec. 31, according to the military. It was named for Maryland National Guard Staff Sergeant Kenneth Cropper, who died on duty at the Pentagon in 2002.

Allegations of Abuse

Camp Cropper first came into the spotlight in 2004 when the International Committee of the Red Cross said it had documented harsh living conditions at the prison, though the worst instances of abuse occurred at the Abu Ghraib jail, southwest of central Baghdad.

Among the 25 prisoners handed over with Aziz are Hussein’s former secretary, Abed Hmoud, former Interior Minister Mohammed Zumam and former Oil Minister Amir Rashid, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told state-sponsored al-Iraqiyah television.

Twenty-nine former regime figures were handed to Iraqi authorities 10 months ago and three were transferred last month, the U.S. military said. Eight others are among 200 inmates, mostly linked to al-Qaeda, who will remain in U.S. custody at Iraq’s request until the American withdrawal, the military said.

Aziz, who surrendered in April 2003, was sentenced to 15 years in jail in March 2009 for his role in the 1992 killing of 42 Baghdad merchants who had been found guilty of profiteering.

Assurance of Safety

The Iraqi administration will ensure the detainees are treated humanely, al-Dabbagh told al-Arabiya television in an interview yesterday after Aziz’s lawyer, Badea Araf Azzit, said he feared for his client’s life.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Shiite Muslim-led government was embroiled in its own abuse scandal in April, when the Los Angeles Times reported that security forces under the premier’s control ran a secret jail where dozens of Sunni Muslims, who dominated Hussein’s Baath party regime, were tortured. The government denied the allegations.

The transfer of Camp Cropper follows the March handover by the U.S. of Camp Taji, at an airbase north of Baghdad. Camp Bucca, where many detainees were sent after Abu Ghraib closed following the abuse scandal, was handed over in September.

In April 2006 an empty Abu Ghraib was transferred to Iraqi authorities, and the U.S. set out to improve the prison system, introducing vocational and education programs. The site was opened again in February 2009 and renamed Baghdad Central Prison.

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