BAGHDAD – Iraq will reopen the notorious Abu Ghraib prison next month, but it's getting a facelift and a new name, a senior justice official said Saturday.
The announcement comes as the U.S. military has begun handing over detainees in its custody to the Iraqis under a new security agreement.
The renovated facility will be called Baghdad's Central Prison because the name Abu Ghraib has left a "bitter feeling inside Iraqis' hearts," deputy Justice Minister Busho Ibrahim said.
Abu Ghraib, which was a torture center under Saddam Hussein and later came to symbolize American mistreatment of some prisoners captured in Iraq, has been closed since 2006.
The prison will house 3,500 inmates when it reopens in mid-February and will have a capacity for about 15,000 by the end of this year, Ibrahim told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
He said the facility will be operated according to international standards.
Last year, the government said it would turn a section of the 280-acre prison into a museum documenting Saddam's crimes but not the abuses committed by U.S. guards.
American authorities have since implemented a series of reforms, although they still face complaints about prolonged detentions without charges.
The planned transfer of detainees from U.S. to Iraqi custody, meanwhile, has prompted concern about Iraq's beleaguered judicial system. The United Nations warned in a recent human rights report about overcrowding and "grave human rights violations" of detainees in Iraqi custody.
Violence has declined dramatically in Iraq but militants continue to stage attacks, with a spate of bombings and assassinations ahead of Jan. 31 provincial elections.
On Saturday, a suicide car bomber struck an Iraqi police patrol in the former insurgent stronghold of Karmah west of Baghdad, killing three people, including a senior officer, and wounding six others, according to Iraqi officials.
Police and hospital officials gave the casualty toll on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information.
The U.S. military said two people were killed and four wounded.
Karmah, 50 miles west of Baghdad, is in Anbar province where the U.S. has handed over security responsibility to Iraqi forces.
Gunmen also opened fire on a checkpoint south of the capital manned by government-backed Sunni fighters who have joined forces with the Americans against Al Qaeda in Iraq.
Two of the so-called Sons of Iraq were killed in the attack in Jurf al-Sakr and two others were wounded, according to police and a local Sunni leader.
Kazhim Dgheim, a senior member of the Sons of Iraq in the area, said the group has frequently been targeted by insurgents trying to undermine support for its decision to join forces with the Americans.
The groups have since come under the control of the Iraqi government.
"We still come under attacks since the order was issued to link us to the government, especially in the Jurf al-Sakr area, which once was a hotbed for Al Qaeda," he said.
North of the capital, a man and a woman were killed and a child was wounded during a U.S.-Iraqi military operation, the U.S. military said, adding the incident remained under investigation.
Local police and witnesses said a Saddam-era army officer and his wife were killed and their 7-year-old daughter wounded early Saturday when the troops came by helicopter and raided the house in the village of Hawija, 150 miles north of Baghdad.
AP photos showed the two bodies covered with colorful blankets and placed in the back of a pickup while mourners cried over them.
Complaints about civilian casualties during military operations have led to fierce criticism of U.S. forces since the 2003 invasion and prompted the Iraqis to insist on stricter oversight under the new security pact that took effect on Jan. 1.
The U.S. military statement stressed Saturday's operation was conducted with Iraqi security forces and "in coordination with the Iraqi government."