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Iraq to reopen Abu Ghraib prison

Sunday, January 25, 2009

BAGHDAD -- Iraq will reopen the notorious Abu Ghraib prison next month, but it's getting a face lift and a new name, a senior justice official said Saturday.

The heavily fortified compound of gray, stone-walled buildings and watchtowers has come to symbolize American abuse of some prisoners captured in Iraq after photos were released showing U.S. soldiers sexually humiliating inmates at the facility.

The scandal stoked support for the insurgency and was one of the biggest setbacks to the U.S. military effort to win the peace in Iraq.

The renovated facility will be called Baghdad's Central Prison because the name Abu Ghraib has left a "bitter feeling inside Iraqis' hearts," deputy justice minister Busho Ibrahim said.

Abu Ghraib, which was a torture center under Saddam Hussein, has been closed since 2006.

The prison will house 3,500 inmates when it reopens in mid-February and will have a capacity for about 15,000 by the end of this year, Ibrahim said.

The announcement comes as the U.S. military has begun handing over about 15,000 detainees in its custody to the Iraqis under a new security agreement, prompting concern about Iraq's beleaguered judicial system. The United Nations warned in a recent human rights report about overcrowding and "grave human rights violations" of detainees in Iraqi custody.

"We have crowded prisons and the opening of Baghdad's Central Prison will help ease the problem," Ibrahim said.

He said the facility will be operated according to international standards.

Last year, the government said it would turn a section of the 280-acre prison into a museum documenting Saddam's crimes but not the abuses committed by U.S. guards.

The photos from Abu Ghraib brought another serious stain to America's reputation after worldwide protests against the March 2003 invasion. They also discredited Washington's claims that it was trying to build a country based on rule of law and respect for human rights on the wreckage of dictatorship.

In all, 11 U.S. soldiers were convicted of breaking military laws and five others were disciplined.

American authorities implemented a series of reforms in the aftermath, although they still faced complaints about prolonged detentions without charges.

Violence has declined dramatically in Iraq but militants continue to stage attacks, with a spate of bombings and assassinations ahead of Jan. 31 provincial elections.

On Saturday, a suicide car bomber struck an Iraqi police patrol in the former insurgent stronghold of Karmah west of Baghdad, killing four people, including a senior officer, and wounding six others, according to police and hospital officials.

The U.S. military said two people were killed and four wounded.

Karmah, 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of Baghdad, is in Anbar province where the U.S. has handed over security responsibility to Iraqi forces.

Gunmen also opened fire on a checkpoint south of the capital manned by government-backed Sunni fighters who have joined forces with the Americans against al-Qaida in Iraq. Two of the so-called Sons of Iraq were killed in the attack in Jurf al-Sakr and two others were wounded, according to police and a local Sunni leader.

A roadside bomb targeted a police patrol in a mainly Sunni area of Baghdad, killing one policeman and wounding five other people, authorities said.

The Iraqi officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information.

North of the capital, a suspected insurgent and a woman were killed and a girl was wounded by a gunshot during a U.S.-Iraqi military operation targeting al-Qaida in Iraq near the village of Hawija, the U.S. military said.

Local police and witnesses said those killed were a Saddam-era army officer and his wife, and said their 7-year-old daughter was wounded.

The woman was killed when she was spotted reaching under a mattress and did not show her hands as ordered, according to a U.S. military statement, which added a pistol was later found under the mattress.

Complaints about civilian casualties during military operations have led to fierce criticism of U.S. forces and prompted the Iraqis to insist on stricter oversight under the new security pact that took effect on Jan. 1.

Two U.S. soldiers also died of noncombat causes in separate incidents Saturday in Iraq, the military said. The deaths raised to at least 4,232 members of the U.S. military who have died in the Iraq war since it began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.


Associated Press writers Sameer N. Yacoub and Sinan Salaheddin contributed to this report.


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