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Final class of U.S.-trained Iraqi prison guards graduates from Camp Bucca

By STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 12, 2009

The final group of Iraqi correctional officers has graduated from a U.S.-run course at Camp Bucca, a key step in the effort to end the American detention system in Iraq.

According to military officials, the 11th class of Iraqi guards — around 240 members — was heavily Sunni, a relative rarity in the Shiite-dominated south.

"For the cadets in Class 11 to travel to Basra was an act of courage. Each cadet must have felt as if they were traveling to the land of [the unknown]," Salah Al-Hindawy, Task Force Bucca bilingual bicultural adviser, was quoted as saying in a news release.

The Iraqi guards work in the detainee housing units, which keep "some of the country’s most extreme and high-risk detainees. ICOs (Iraqi correctional officers) also work throughout Camp Bucca’s Theater Internment Facility (TIF), the hospital, and the Visitation Center," officials said.

Camp Bucca, which is near the Kuwaiti border, is the largest of the U.S. detention facilities in Iraq, housing about 7,500 detainees.

As the U.S. military tries to transfer the responsibility for detainees in the country to Iraqis, training new guards has taken on greater importance. There are several training facilities run by the United States throughout Iraq, including at the detention facility at Camp Cropper in Baghdad.

There, Iraqi guards man the catwalks surrounding the detainee blocks, among other duties.

Trainers have tried to impress on the Iraqis that how detainees are treated would go a long way toward determining how they act once they are released.

Under an agreement reached between the Iraqi and American governments, the United States is seeking to transfer or release all detainees in its custody. Some 1,500 are either released or turned over to the Iraqis each month.

According to officials with Task Force 134 — the command responsible for detainee operations in Iraq — fewer than 12,000 detainees are now being held by U.S. forces throughout the country. At one time during the "surge" of U.S. forces, that number was as high as 26,000.