Abu Ghraib expanded as violence sweeps Iraq

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The Independent Online

Faced with unremitting violence, the United States is building new detention areas at Iraqi prisons including the notorious Abu Ghraib.

President George Bush had declared that Abu Ghraib would be torn down in a symbolic gesture after shocking pictures emerged of Iraqi inmates being abused and tortured by American forces.

But the continuing insurgency and rising death toll has meant that not only can the US not hand over Abu Ghraib to the new Iraqi government, according to a planned timetable, but other prisons including Camp Bucca in the British-controlled south of the country are being expanded.

The numbers of prisoners being held by the US in Iraq has reached record levels this month, with 10,783 in custody, up from 7,837 in January and 5,435 in June last year. American Iraqi officials agree there is no sign of the resistance or the prisoners it produces abating soon. "It's been a challenge" said Col James Brown, commander of the 18th Military Police Brigade. "Many of the people we have captured have not given up the struggle."

President Bush will make a nationwide television address tomorrow after opinion polls showed increasing numbers of Americans are disenchanted with the war.

But the Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, was forced to admit yesterday that the fighting could go on for years, adding: "We are not going to win against the insurgency, the Iraqi people will win against the insurgency". Mr Rumsfeld tried to play down reports that the US and Iraqi officials had been meeting representatives of the Sunni insurgency to try to forge a peace deal. He insisted such contacts were "routine".

The decision by American commanders to add to the detention facilities instead of their planned decommissioning would be seen as an admission of just how much the situation is out of control more than two years after invasion.

Major-General William Brandenburg, who oversees US-run prisons in Iraq, said US forces would have been out of Abu Ghraib under an original timetable by spring next year. But he now says: "I believed it until mid-December, but the numbers just weren't going that way. Business is booming." General Brandenburg said the US would need to hold on to at least 2,000 prisoners in the Baghdad area, and the eventual handover to Abu Ghraib to the Iraqis will have come after expansion of Camp Cropper, on a US base near the airport, where Saddam Hussein and other "high-value" prisoners are.

Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca, near the Kuwaiti border, are at their maximum capacity with 10,178 detainees between them. US guards have shot several prisoners at Camp Bucca, leading to public expressions of concern by the Iraq's former interim government and privately by senior British officers.

The Iraqi government and US authorities maintain separate holding facilities at Abu Ghraib, which gained its infamous reputation under Saddam Hussein's regime before the scandal of the US abuse.

At the weekend, suicide bombings killed 33 people and wounded 27 others in the northern city of Mosul. The first blast, with 12 deaths and eight injuries, was caused by explosives hidden in a truck under watermelons which demolished a police station and adjoining buildings. A survivor, Mohammed Hussein Ali, a 30-year-old policeman, said all approaches had been blocked off except one for the market. "We didn't suspect the watermelon man, because we see such vehicles every day on their way to the bazaar."

Two hours later, a suicide bomber struck at an army base in Mosul, killing 16 and injuring seven more. Shortly afterwards, another insurgent with an explosive belt walked into the Jumhori Teaching Hospital, where casualties from the previous blasts were being treated, and set off the bomb in a room used by police guards, killing five and wounding 12 others.

A US soldier was killed and two others injured by a roadside bomb in Baghdad, and a senior Iraqi police officer, Colonel Riyad Abdul Karim, was killed at his home in a suburb of the city.