BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraq's government has formally taken over Abu Ghraib, site of an abuse scandal by U.S. soldiers, and all inmates have been transferred to another facility, officials said Saturday.
Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the facility, which has become synonymous with abuse, had been emptied of any detainees.
"The Abu Ghraib detention facility was handed over to the Iraqi government," said al-Dabbagh, spokesman for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Lt. Col. Keir Kevin Curry, U.S. spokesman for detainee operations, also confirmed that coalition forces had transferred operations of Abu Ghraib to the Iraqi Justice Ministry on Friday.
Iraqi officials allowed AP Television News to film the first-ever footage of the detention facility since it came under the control of the U.S. military after Saddam Hussein's regime was ousted in April 2003.
The exclusive AP footage showed empty hallways and row upon row of unlocked cells, with open doors. Some of the cell walls were covered with graffiti of names and dates, apparently referring to durations of incarceration.
Iraqi soldiers and their Humvees were seen at checkpoints outside the facility and inside the compound. One soldier flashed the victory sign as his vehicle drove in.
The formal transfer was conducted between Maj. Gen. Jack Gardner, Commander of Task Force 134, and representatives of the Iraqi Ministry of Justice and the Iraqi army.
Soldiers from the 1st Iraqi Army Division will provide security for the facility until the Iraqi Ministry of Justice dispatches its own security detail.
Al-Dabbagh said the Iraqi government has not decided yet what to do with Abu Ghraib, but it will be used "in a way that can serve the national interest."
He said the facility had become synonymous with abuse.
"This detention facility has witnessed serious violations and serious crimes during the rule of Saddam Hussein," he said. "It has also witnessed human rights violations by members of the U.S. forces, who were tried. The media practiced its full role in disclosing these violations."
Abu Ghraib came to symbolize American mishandling of some prisoners captured in Iraq, both during the U.S.-led invasion three years ago and in the fight to subdue the largely Sunni Arab insurgency since then.
Widely publicized photographs of prisoner abuse by American military guards and interrogators at the facility prompted intense global criticism of the U.S. war in Iraq and fueled the insurgency. The scandal led to a wide-scale investigation that resulted in convictions and dismissals against a number of U.S. soldiers.
Abu Ghraib also was a notorious detention center during Saddam's days, where the former dictator incarcerated his political opponents. Right before the invasion, Saddam released thousands of inmates from the facility, including common criminals, which was seen as a move aimed at spreading chaos after the military attack.
Deputy Justice Minister Busho Ibrahim told The Associated Press last week that the detainees at Abu Ghraib were moved to a new $60 million detention facility that has been built as part of Camp Cropper, near Baghdad International Airport.
Curry confirmed that most of the detainees were transferred to Camp Cropper last month after the coalition completed "an expansion and extensive renovations meant to provide increased security, and improved detainee care and custody."
He said coalition authorities still had about 13,000 detainees in their custody.