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As US hands over last prison in Iraq, a glimpse at how detainees lived

The US today handed over Camp Cropper, its last detention facility in Iraq. Maj. Gen. Jerry Cannon describes how former regime officials have lived out their days watching BBC Arabic Television and growing vegetables.

By Jane ArrafCorrespondent / July 15, 2010

In this Nov. 10, 2008, file photo, detainees are seen outside their cell block at the US detention facility at Camp Cropper in Baghdad, Iraq. US authorities are set to transfer Camp Cropper, the last American-run detention facility, to the Iraqi government.

Maya Alleruzzo/AP Photo/File

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Baghdad

The US closed one of the most controversial chapters of the Iraq war today when it transferred control of its last remaining prison to the Iraqi government.

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US military officials handed over the keys to Camp Cropper, located near Baghdad’s international airport. It's been renamed Karkh Prison, and will operate under Iraqi authority.

“It is sort of monumental,” said Maj. Gen. Jerry Cannon, chief US jailer in Iraq, in an interview ahead of the official transfer of authority. “This is the last US forces' large detention facility in Iraq that we’re turning over.”

With the close of Camp Cropper, 1,600 prisoners are being transferred to Iraqi custody, including 26 former regime officials who were handed over earlier this week. Most of them are elderly men, some of whom have spent time gardening and reading at Camp Cropper as they await trial in a much-changed Iraq.

Throughout the war, 86,000 Iraqis have gone through US military detention. Many were rounded up during the height of the insurgency and released without charge months or years later. Some, thrown in with hardened insurgents, became radicalized at places like Camp Bucca, which closed in September 2009.

Others were subject to abuse, most infamously at Abu Ghraib, which was turned over to Iraqis in 2006. But improved US standards have since earned the respect of Iraqis.

Life for jailed officials: BBC Arabic and growing tomatoes

Despite the handover, the Iraqi government has asked the US military to keep about 200 prisoners, many of them suspected or convicted of terrorism, as well as eight former regime officials – five of whom have been sentenced to death. Those considered the most dangerous detainees are from organizations that didn't exist before the war – Al Qaeda in Iraq and a host of both Sunni and Shiite groups carefully segregated by the Americans.

Until now, the high-security detainees have been kept in Camp Cropper’s sprawling compounds, where American guards on catwalks wear protective eye wear to avoid being hit by urine or feces occasionally thrown by hostile detainees. But now they’ll be moving into barracks where ex-regime officials have been living in genteel captivity, says Cannon.

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