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Iraq: Unrest at Abu Ghraib as Camp Bucca Closes

by Matt Clarke

In September 2009 the U.S. military closed Camp Bucca in Iraq, once its largest detention facility, and the prison at Abu Ghraib experienced a two-day uprising. Camp Bucca cost the U.S. $50 million to build and once held over 22,000 prisoners in separate camps. It was permanently closed on September 16, 2009, leaving only a brick factory, ice plant and water treatment facility to turn over to local residents for civilian use.

The closing of Camp Bucca was part of the demobilization of the U.S. military in Iraq. The U.S. once held about 90,000 Iraqi prisoners; it now holds around 2,900. All U.S. military prisons except one have been closed or turned over to Iraqi authorities, including the $107 million Camp Taji. The last facility, Camp Cropper, is scheduled to be handed over on July 15, 2010.

One of the former U.S. detention facilities already turned over to the Iraqis is the prison at Abu Ghraib near Baghdad. Renamed the Baghdad Central Prison, it is still referred to locally and internationally as “Abu Ghraib” and remains infamous for the inhumane treatment of prisoners both before and after the U.S. took control of the facility. A total of eleven U.S. soldiers were convicted of abusing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. [See: PLN, Aug. 2009, p.28; May 2006, p.14].

On September 10, 2009, an uprising began at the Abu Ghraib prison when three prisoners set a fire in their cell and attempted to overpower the guards. The disturbance, which may have been motivated by an escape attempt, widened into a large-scale two-day incident in which prison officials called in Iraqi soldiers and U.S. helicopters.

A delegation that included Iraqi lawmakers negotiated with the prisoners, who demanded amnesty and the replacement of prison employees whom they claimed were abusive. The delegation agreed to form a committee to study the prisoners’ demands, and most of the prisoners returned to their cells voluntarily. A few who refused to end the uprising were forced into their cells. Apparently one prisoner wrestled a rifle from a guard. Four were injured, according to Iraqi lawmaker Zeinab al-Kinani.

As is frequently the case in Iraq, firm facts are hard to come by. Iraqi officials said three guards and three prisoners were injured with no fatalities. Shatha al-Abousi, a member of the human rights committee of Iraq’s parliament, claimed two prisoners were killed. Iraqi Deputy Justice Minister Busho Ibrahim strongly denied there were any deaths.

The reason for the uprising is equally uncertain. Shiite lawmakers said they were told the disturbance was in response to inhumane treatment by guards, and called for an investigation. One local news report stated the incident was a Sunni-Shiite clash, while another said it was an organized protest by prisoners seeking access to cell phones. The truth – which is all too often concealed behind prison bars – may never be known.

Sources: Associated Press,,

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