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Iraq shuts infamous Abu Ghraib prison over security fears

AFP , Tuesday 15 Apr 2014
Abu Ghraib
File Photo: Prison guards secure the main gate of the newly named Baghdad Central Prison in Baghdad's Abu Ghraib 21 February, 2009 (Photo: Reuters)
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Iraq has closed Abu Ghraib prison, made infamous by Saddam Hussein's regime and US forces, due to security concerns following a mass breakout last year, the justice ministry said Tuesday.

The country is suffering a protracted surge in violence that has claimed more than 2,550 lives so far this year, and the area west of Baghdad where the prison is located is particularly insecure.

"The ministry of justice announced the complete closure of Baghdad Central Prison, previously (known as) 'Abu Ghraib,' and the removal of the inmates in cooperation with the ministries of defence and justice," it said in an online statement.

The statement quoted Justice Minister Hassan al-Shammari as saying that 2,400 inmates arrested or sentenced for terrorism-related offences have been transferred to other facilities in central and northern Iraq.

"The ministry took this decision as part of precautionary measures related to the security of prisons," Shammari said, adding that Abu Ghraib prison is "in a hot area."

It was not immediately clear whether the closure was temporary or final.

The prison is located between Baghdad and the city of Fallujah, which has been held by anti-government fighters since early January.

The prison served as a notorious torture centre under now-executed dictator Saddam Hussein, with an estimated 4,000 detainees perishing there.

Abu Ghraib later became a byword for abuses carried out by US forces following the 2003 invasion when photographs surfaced the following year showing Iraqi detainees being humiliated by American guards, igniting worldwide outrage.

In July 2013, militants assaulted Abu Ghraib prison and another in Taji, north of Baghdad.

Officials said hundreds of inmates escaped and over 50 prisoners and members of the security forces were killed in the assaults, which were claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, a powerful jihadist group.

Iraq has been hit by a year-long surge in violence, driven principally by widespread anger among the Sunni Arab minority, who say they are mistreated by the Shiite-led government and security forces, as well as by the civil war in neighbouring Syria.

Violence in Iraq has killed more than 340 people since the beginning of the month, according to AFP figures based on security and medical sources.

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