BAGHDAD – An Iraqi Justice Ministry official said Wednesday that this week's closure of the infamous Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad is temporary and that it will be reopened once the security situation in the surrounding area is stable.
The closure is the latest chapter in the history of the prison, which during Saddam Hussein's rule was one of the main facilities for jailing and executing his opponents. After the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam, Abu Ghraib became notorious once again, for a 2004 scandal over abuses of detainees by American guards.
The prison is located on Baghdad's outskirts at the edge of the Sunni-dominated Anbar province, an area that sees frequent clashes between an Al Qaeda-splinter group, known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, and government forces and their Sunni tribal militias.
Justice Minister Hassan al-Shimmari announced the closure on Tuesday, saying Abu Ghraib's 2,400 inmates have been transferred to other prisons in central and northern Iraq. Al-Shimmari said it was a precautionary measure because the facility is located in "a restive area."
Ministry spokesman Haider al-Saadi said Wednesday the shutdown "is mainly because of the security situation in the surrounding area." He said renovation work was underway during the closure, and that the facility would be reopened once the work is done and "the security situation is stable."
Last July, militants attacked Abu Ghraib and another prison, setting free hundreds of inmates, including many militants. Dozens of other inmates and security personnel were killed in the attack.
Also Wednesday, insurgents carried out back-to-back suicide attacks against security forces in Anbar province's capital, Ramadi, killing at least eight, officials said.
Two suicide bombers rammed their explosives-laden cars into security checkpoints leading to the military operation command in Ramadi. Five soldiers and three police officers were killed, and 14 people wounded, said a police official.
In December, Al Qaeda-inspired militants took control of parts of Ramadi and the downtown of nearby Fallujah. Since then, Iraqi government security forces and allied Sunni tribal militias have been struggling to dislodge the militants.
In Baghdad's northern neighborhood of Sabaa al-Bour, militants barraged a military barracks with mortar rounds at dawn Wednesday, killing two soldiers and wounding eight others, a police officer said. Hours later, a bomb ripped through a commercial area in the same neighborhood, killing three people and wounding 10 others, he said.
Two medical officials confirmed the causality figures in the attacks. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.