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High-ranking Iraqi and American officials have begun a series of meetings to address the transfer of detainees mandated under the security agreement that details the U.S. withdrawal from the country.

Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force — Iraq, and Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barim Salih were among those at the meeting Wednesday in Baghdad.

Under terms of the security agreement — which spells out how U.S. forces will leave Iraq — all Iraqi detainees must be transferred from U.S. to Iraqi control beginning next month. That daunting task must be completed through a "transparent process that will apply to all parties," Odierno said, according to a U.S. military news release.

Salih also addressed the committee, established to iron out the details, saying the goal is to "release as many detainees as possible, while being careful not to release criminals or those who will return to terrorist activities."

Brig. Gen. David Quantock, commander of Task Force 134, which controls U.S. detainee operations in Iraq, said Iraqi officials will have 45 days to review batches of detainee files and identify which detainees they want released and which they want transferred to their custody.

Quantock said that Task Force 134 will give 1,500 detainee files to Iraqi officials on the first day of each month, "until all Iraqi detainees in coalition custody have been released or transferred to [Iraqi]-run facilities."

There are currently some 15,800 detainees at U.S. facilities in Iraq, officials said Thursday. In November 2007, that number was around 26,000; American officials said they have released nearly 18,000 detainees this year alone, though soldiers continue to detain people on a daily basis.

In recent years, the U.S. detention system in Iraq has undergone several makeovers to change the image created by the Abu Ghraib detainee abuse scandal. Officials have stressed vocational and religious programs aimed at reducing recidivism; they have also touted the increased pace of releases and transfers to Iraqi authorities.

Task Force 134 officials have also sought to reassure troops in the field that targets they detain will not be released without going through a review. Troops now have stringent requirements on gathering evidence against detainees, and U.S. officials have estimated that there are around 5,000 "hard core" detainees they would not want to see released by the Iraqis.

Future meetings of the detainee transfer committee will focus on "intelligence reviews of each detainee’s file, judicial review of the files of the most dangerous detainees, and the process for handing over control of the coalition forces theater internment facilities," Thursday’s news release read.

The U.S. plan to release or transfer 1,500 detainees per month "will stand until the [Iraqi government] creates a plan of its own, at which time the committee will come to an agreement that will incorporate aspects of both the MNF-I and [Iraqi] plans."


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