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US transfers 26 Saddam-era officials to Iraqi custody

Iraq's justice minister announced Wednesday that 26 former officials in the government of Saddam Hussein [JURIST news archive] have been transferred from US to Iraqi custody as US troops prepare to withdraw from the country next month. The prisoners, transferred from Camp Cropper [JURIST news archive] to Kadhimiya prison in Baghdad, include former foreign minister Tariq Aziz [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], former interior minister Mohammed Zumam and former oil minister Amir Mohammed, and follows the transfer of 29 other former officials ten months ago. Only eight high-anking officials and 200 prisoners remain in US custody. According to his lawyer, Aziz fears for his life [AP report] while in the custody of the current Iraqi government and plans to appeal to the Vatican to intervene on his behalf. Aziz's family has called for his release on health grounds, claiming he has had two heart attacks and suffered a stroke [JURIST report] in January. In August 2009, Aziz was convicted of forcing Kurdish displacement [JURIST report] from northeast Iraq during the late 1980s, and was sentenced to seven years in prison. In March 2009, Aziz was sentenced to 15 years [JURIST report] in prison for the 1992 murders of 42 merchants accused of price-gouging during a period of UN-imposed sanctions. Camp Cropper and the 1,600 prisoners held there will also be transfered to Iraqi administration [CNN report] on Thursday and is the last US-run detention facility in the country.

In March, the US military transfered Camp Taji prison [JURIST report] to Iraqi authorities. The US began to scale back its Iraq detention facilities in September when Camp Bucca [JURIST news archive] in southern Iraq was closed [JURIST report] pursuant to the Status of Forces Agreement [text, PDF]. According to the agreement, all US troops must be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of 2011, and the US must release all prisoners or transfer them to the control of Iraqi authorities. The Iraqi government must have arrest warrants or detention orders to accept transferred prisoners into Iraqi facilities, otherwise risking release. A fourth US-run prison, Abu Ghraib [JURIST news archive], was transferred back to Iraqi control [JURIST report] in 2006. The Iraqi government has recently faced criticism for its treatment of prisoners from Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website]. In April, the rights group claimed that Iraqi detainees were repeatedly tortured [JURIST report] in a secret prison in Baghdad.

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