Iraq: US to hand over last detainment center; sectarian war grinds on

The US military is preparing to hand over control of its last remaining detention center in Iraq, with Baghdad authorities to take charge of 1,600 of the 1,800 detainees at Camp Cropper, near the capital’s airport. The US military has been asked to hold the remainder, some of them alleged members of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Earlier this week, 26 former members of Saddam Hussein’s regime, including his deputy Tariq Aziz, were transferred.

Human rights groups will be watching the transfer closely. If the US has a ghastly history of care for its detainees in Iraq, the record of post-Saddam Iraqi administrations is little better, with persistent cases of detainees being held without charge, sometimes in secret prisons, suffering abuse and torture.

Deputy Justice Minister Busho Ibrahim insisted the Iraqi authorities were ready to assume take control of Camp Cropper. “We have been running dozens of prisons, and we are confident of our ability to run all prisons,” he told the Associated Press.

Eight members of the former regime are among the 200 detainees who will remain in US custody. They are ostensibly be handed over before US forces withdraw in December 2011. Some 50,000 combat troops are scheduled to leave by the end of August. (BBC News, July 15)

Camp Cropper is the last of three US prisons handed over to Iraqi control. Camp Bucca was transferred last September, and Camp Taji, a detention facility at an air base just north of Baghdad, in January. (AP, July 14)

Even as the transfer is underway, parties negotiating to form a new Iraqi government remain deadlocked. In an interview with the UAE’s Gulf News, Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero, deputy commanding general of US forces in Iraq, said the withdrawal of US troops is not linked to the formation of the country’s government Gen. Barbero said that a small contingency will remain in Iraq after the 2011 withdrawal.

Barbero equivocated on the threat represented by al-Qaeda in Iraq (which some seem to think doesn’t exist). “My estimate is that Al Qaida in Iraq is not capable of threatening the Iraqi government,” he said. “However, they are capable of sporadic violent attacks against innocent Iraqis, but those are becoming further spaced apart and less effective.” (Gulf News, July 13)

Whether or not al-Qaeda has the power to threaten the Iraqi government, the sectarian war in Iraq grinds on. At least 70 people were killed in Baghdad in a wave of bombings again targeting Shi’ite pilgrims last week. Security sources said attacks on the thousands of Shi’ite faithful taking part in the pilgrimage to the Musa Kadhim shrine have wounded more than 300 people since over the past week. One deadly attack took place near the al-Aaimmah bridge where 900 people died in 2005 in a stampede sparked by a rumor that a suicide bomber was about to strike.

The attacks came days after the US Vice President Joe Biden met senior Iraqi officials in Baghdad to urge them to select new leaders without further delays. Biden met with both main contestants for the prime ministerial post, Nouri al-Maliki, who heads a Shi’ite-dominated bloc, and Iyad Allawi, the head of the a cross-sectarian coalition who narrowly won the March vote. (AlJazeera, July 8)

See our last posts on Iraq and the detainment scandals.

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  1. …and grinds on
    Separate bombings to the north and the south of Baghdad killed at least 14 and injured some 30 others July 16. A car bomb exploded in the northern city of Tikrit on a busy commercial street, killing six, including four police, and wounding 14 others. In another attack, a bomb blast in a cafe in the town of Haswa, south of Baghdad, killed six and wounded eight. Meanwhile, a bomb planted on a bicycle in a marketplace in Mahmudiya, on Baghdad’s southern outskirts, killed two and wounded 10. (Press TV, Iran, July 16)

  2. Insurgency or sectarian war?
    A car bomb outside a mosque killed at least 15 people at Abe Sayeda village outside Baquba in Diyala province July 21. The mosque is close to an outdoor market and several coffee shops, and the area was crowded at the time of the explosion, which came as worshipers were leaving evening prayers. Residents of Abe Sayeda, a predominately Shi’ite village located in a heavily Sunni area, blamed the bombing on al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia. (WP, NYT, AFP, July 21)

  3. Insurgency or sectarian war?
    OK, at least this time they’re targeting an army recruitment center (although the kids who died were not yet in uniform), but note that they still portray their struggle in sectarian terms. From Reuters, Aug. 20:

    Al Qaeda’s Iraqi affiliate on Friday claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on an army recruitment centre in Baghdad in which at least 57 recruits and soldiers were killed.

    In one of the deadliest incidents of the year, a suicide bomber on Tuesday struck a crowd of young men waiting to hand in job applications to join the Iraqi army…

    In a statement posted on a website often used by Islamist radicals, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), a local al Qaeda umbrella group, said the target was in a highly secure area.

    “One of the heroes of the State of Islam … armed with a suicide vest, targeted a gathering of disbelieving cattle and other apostates who sold their religion for little money …,” the statement said.

    It said the army recruits were offering themselves as weapons in a war against Sunni Muslims waged by the Shi’ite-led authorities of Iraq.