BAGHDAD - The American military said Thursday that its new lockup near Baghdad airport to house security prisoners now held at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison should be ready within three months.
Once the U.S. moves prisoners to the new prison at Camp Cropper, a process that will take some months, Abu Ghraib will be returned to Iraqi prison authorities, said Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad.
Lt. Col. Kier-Kevin Curry, a spokesman for U.S. military detainee operations, said completion of the new prison at Camp Cropper, where Saddam Hussein and his co-defendants have been held since their capture, would set the transfer in motion.
"We will transfer operations from Abu Ghraib to the new Camp Cropper once construction is completed there. No precise dates have been set, but the plan is to accomplish this [completion of construction] within the next two to three months," Curry said.
"Once we transfer operations from Abu Ghraib, the facility will be turned over to the Iraqi government."
The prison, which currently holds over 4,500 detainees, came to symbolize American mishandling of some prisoners captured in Iraq, both during the U.S.-led invasion three years ago and in the fight to subdue the largely Sunni Muslim insurgency since then.
Widely publicized photographs of prisoner abuse by American military guards and interrogators at the led to intense global criticism of the U.S. war in Iraq and fueled the insurgency.
Planning for the new facility at Camp Cropper began in 2004, Johnson said.
"Abu Ghraib prison is in a region that has been susceptible to attacks and it is difficult to support logistically, so there has always been the intention the move detainees to a more secure location," Johnson said. "There are other associations with Abu Ghraib that are more emotional, but the primary reason for us has always been security."
The hand-over of authority at Abu Ghraib will take place in phases, Curry said, beginning with basic training for prison guards, followed by Iraqi working side by side with U.S. forces at detention facilities. Iraqi guards will then start running detainee operations themselves with a transition team overseeing them before they assume complete control.
"A specific timeline is difficult to project at this stage with so many variables," Curry said. "The Iraqis are committed to doing this right and will not rush to failure. The transition will be based on meeting standards, not on a timeline."