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Abu Ghraib: Notorious prison closed over security concerns, Iraq officials say

An Iraqi flag flies over a guard tower at the Abu Ghraib prison in this May 2010 photo. The complex was reopened under Iraqi control and holds hundreds of convicts. <br>Travis J. Tritten/Stars and Stripes
An Iraqi flag flies over a guard tower at the Abu Ghraib prison in this May 2010 photo. The complex was reopened under Iraqi control and holds hundreds of convicts.
Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Abed Motlaq Al-Jabouri urges 320 prisoners about to be released from Abu Ghraib prison Saturday to participate in the Oct. 15 constitutional referendum.<br>Erik Slavin/Stars and Stripes
The U.S. military plans to turn Abu Ghraib prison over to the Iraqi government in February or March.<br>Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes
Prisoners listen to Iraqi government officials before their release from Abu Ghraib prison on Saturday.<br>Erik Slavin/Stars and Stripes
Outside the correctional facility in Abu Ghraib where detainees are held by U.S. troops.<br>Charlie Coon/Stars and Stripes
Capt. Troy Armstrong shows the renovations made to what once was the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.<br>Scott Schonauer /Stars and Stripes
One of the old cells that hasn't yet been renovated at what once was the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.<br>Scott Schonauer/Stars and Stripes
Capt. Troy Armstrong shows the renovations made to what once was the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.<br>Scott Schonauer /Stars and Stripes

BAGHDAD — Iraqi authorities have closed the notorious Abu Ghraib prison near the capital Baghdad for security reasons and evacuated all its prisoners, the Justice Ministry announced Tuesday.

The complex's 2,400 inmates had been moved to other prisons in northern and central Iraq, the announcement said, without specifying when the operation had taken place.

Abu Ghraib, Baghdad's central prison, lies about 20 miles west of the capital in the Sunni-dominated al-Anbar province, where local and pan-Arab media reported clashes on Monday and Tuesday.

Security forces loyal to the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have been battling Sunni jihadists of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant in the province since January.

The Iraqi army's head of operations in the region was killed along with a number of other officers in a helicopter crash, army officials said.

The officials, who were not authorized to give their names, said that the crash was due to a technical fault.

ISIL is reportedly in control of the city of Fallujah, an additional 20 miles to the west, and it recently published video clips of what it said was a military parade by its fighters in Abu Ghraib.

In July ISIL attacked Abu Ghraib and another prison north of Baghdad, and it alleged to have liberated 500 inmates.

Abu Ghraib prison became notorious after pictures of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi detainees in the complex were made public in 2004.

ISIL has its origins in al-Qaida in Iraq but has broken away from the international network as it seeks to control territory in neighboring Syria against the instructions of al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri.

Tension is high in Iraq ahead of parliamentary elections due to be held on April 30 in which al-Maliki is seeking a third consecutive term.

In recent months, the country has seen almost daily attacks mainly targeting security forces and Shiite civilians.

According to UN estimates, 8,868 people were killed in violence in 2013, Iraq's highest annual death toll in five years.

Reporting for this story also was done in Cairo.

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