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Military engineers have completed expansion work on one of three U.S. military prisons in Iraq that will replace the notorious Abu Ghraib complex this spring, officials said Sunday.

Fort Suse, near Sulaymaniyah in northern Iraq, is capable of housing some 1,700 “security detainees” and opened for operation with the delivery of the first 50 detainees on Oct. 24, the military said in a release from Baghdad.

“The opening of Fort Suse is a big step in the transition of detention operations to the Iraqis. It will be the first facility to be completely turned over to Iraqi control. This complete transition of operations will take place after extensive training of Iraqi guards and only after they are completely confident in their ability to run this facility,” Maj. Gen. William Brandenburg, commanding general of Detainee Operations, said in the release.

Some 150 Iraqi guards are now working with U.S. soldiers of Task Force 33 at the facility, officials said. Another 350 Iraqi guards will be added to the staff as the transition moves forward.

“We’re not putting a drop-dead timeline on this,” Brandenburg said. “We will transition detention operations at Fort Suse to the Iraqis when they are completely confident and ready. The Iraqis are committed to doing this right and we will not set an arbitrary deadline.”

Fort Suse was formerly a Russian-built military training facility, officials said. The renovation into a detention facility cost around $8 million, with the construction work being completed by the 20th Engineer Brigade and Iraqi construction company workers.

Detainees will also be moved to an expanded facility at Camp Cropper and the existing facility at Camp Bucca, in southern Iraq. The headquarters for the U.S. military’s detention operations would also move from Abu Ghraib to Camp Cropper.

“We are building a new Camp Cropper — and when it is completed in the Feb ’06 timeframe — our plan is to transfer operations from Abu Ghraib and close Abu,” Lt. Col. Guy Rudisill, spokesman for Multi-National Force-Iraq’s detainee operations, told Stripes in an August e-mail interview.

The plans call for U.S. forces to move an unspecified number of “prisoners of interest” now detained at Abu Ghraib to Camp Cropper, a U.S. detention facility near Baghdad, where they would remain under U.S. control, said a civilian member of U.S. Army Europe headquarters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The civilian said the plan called for the transfer of prisoners in February or March. The Camp Cropper expansion will increase its holding ability from 163 prisoners to 2,000, said Lt. Col. Stan Heath, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Gulf Region Division in Baghdad. The corps is heading up the $23 million project, which began in June.

Camp Cropper currently houses around 150 detainees, officials said. The plan would sever the U.S. association with Abu Ghraib, where photographs released worldwide in April 2004 showed U.S. soldiers and others abusing and humiliating prisoners.


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