BAGHDAD — The U.S. military handed over its last prison facility, Camp Cropper, to the Iraqi government Thursday in a ceremony that all but ends America's role as a keeper of Iraqi detainees.
The event, presided over by U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Jerry Cannon and Iraqi Justice Minister Dara Noureddin, included references to both nations' checkered record with Iraqi detainees, infamously at Abu Ghraib prison, where detainee abuse by U.S. personnel was revealed in 2004 and where inmates had been brutally treated in earlier years under Saddam Hussein.
Noureddin struck a somber note in discussing the current challenges facing a system that has been dogged by allegations of abuse, overcrowding and other problems.
Cannon, however, praised the U.S. and Iraqi governments for their management of the detainee populations. Though he acknowledged the mistakes of the past, he painted the future in bright strokes and was bullish about the Iraqi side's progress.
"There is overwhelming evidence they are equipped, prepared and poised to take over," he said.
Cannon promoted Iraq's readiness for the U.S. military's departure, with the U.S. presence to be downsized to 50,000 noncombat personnel next month and all American forces to be withdrawn by the end of next year.
"Success is not only measured in the security gains, but in the enhanced capability and capacity of the ministries," the general said. "This is the first day of a new era, one in which all elements of the Iraqi criminal justice system are able to assert their role in providing for the continued safety and security of the Iraqi people."
Camp Cropper, a small base in an archipelago of military compounds at Baghdad airport, holds 1,500 detainees. It was renamed Karkh Prison.
The U.S. military will continue to operate a wing called Compound 5 with 200 detainees, including eight members of Saddam's government. Any remaining detainees will be handed over to full Iraqi custody by the end of 2011.