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U.S. hands over its last detention facility in Iraq

From Arwa Damon, CNN
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U.S. hands over Camp Cropper facility
  • The handover is a milestone in U.S.-Iraqi relations
  • At Iraq's request, the U.S. will maintain custody of 200 dangerous inmates
  • The U.S. will continue to have advisers and special inspectors

Baghdad, Iraq (CNN) -- The U.S. military handed over to Iraq the Camp Cropper detention facility Thursday, calling the moment a milestone in Iraq's history and another step in the drawdown of U.S. forces there.

Established in 2003 as a holding facility for security detainees near Baghdad International Airport, the prison had the capacity to hold up to 4,000 detainees.

With this handover, the U.S. military's oversight on detainee operations significantly diminishes, a cause of concern for Iraqis who largely don't trust their justice system.

The United States will continue to have advisers and special teams inspect facilities if there are reports of torture and abuse.

Military commanders said that the Iraqis were trained to international standards.

"We will also continue to be involved with advisers and in accordance with the security agreement we have every expectation that we will be able to continue to do checks and balances that are presented to us when there is a problem situation," said Maj. Gen. Jerry Cannon, deputy commanding general for detainee operations.

U.S. detainee operations have been undermined by the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and reports of abuse and secret detainment facilities. In the Abu Ghraib case, U.S. soldiers were photographed physically and sexually abusing Iraqi prisoners. Eleven U.S. soldiers were convicted of crimes in the case.

"To be perfectly frank here, we have learned from our experiences here in terms of detainee operations," said Maj. Gen. Steve Lanza, spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq.

"Some of our inability to be prepared for what we encountered has significantly changed the way we approached detainee operations here in Iraq.

"What we have learned from executing counter-insurgency operations, the way we have changed our training, the way we have changed our approach to leadership is certainly significant in terms of how we have moved forward here in the last few years with detainee operations," said Lanza.

He said that the lessons learned have allowed their Iraqi counterparts who are taking over the role to move forward with the rule of law.

Iraqi Justice Minister Dara Nur al-Deen said that the era of prison abuse is over and asked that Iraqis respect each other and adhere to a proper code of conduct.

At present, there are about 1,500 detainees at Camp Cropper.

The U.S. military will continue to maintain physical custody of some 200 detainees in a section of Camp Cropper known as Compound 5 at the request of the Iraqi government. They include former regime elements, senior al Qaeda members, and other detainees classified as being "very dangerous."

There have been people transferred to other facilities. Tariq Aziz, who at one time served as former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's top diplomat, was handed over on Monday from Camp Cropper and is being held at Kadhimiya prison in Baghdad, Boshu Ibrahim, deputy justice minister, told CNN on Wednesday.