updated 7/9/2008 7:30:34 PM ET 2008-07-09T23:30:34

The United States has released more detainees in Iraq so far this year than in all of 2007, the U.S. military said Wednesday.

A total of 9,047 people were freed as of Monday, compared with 8,956 let out of detention last year, the military said in a statement.

Officials did not immediately say how many Iraqis remained in U.S. custody, though they cited a figure of about 22,000 in May.

The U.S. wants to phase out its role in running prisons in Iraq and transfer detainees to Iraqi control. Reaching the goal has been slowed by the lack of adequate Iraqi prison space and trained guards, as well as concerns about treatment prisoners would receive in Iraqi custody.

"We are committed to transitioning the security detainees back into society once they have been determined not to be a threat to coalition forces or the people of Iraq," said Brig. Gen. Robert Hipwell, commander of the 300th Military Police Brigade. His unit is responsible for oversight of detainee releases in Iraq.

The military said it has been releasing about 50 detainees a day for the last 10 months. It said it is holding about a dozen women.

The U.S. military says its detention system is authorized by a U.N. resolution under which the Iraqi government allows U.S. troops to arrest people at will. U.S. military attorneys say it also complies with international laws covering warfare and was created in "the spirit" of the Geneva Conventions.

Commanders say they are entitled to hold any prisoner until the detainee is no longer considered a threat to U.S. forces. Local law and court rulings do not apply, they add.

Rights groups have criticized U.S. detention policy as a misrepresentation of international law, which they say requires some form of legal process to detain someone.

The right of the U.S. to detain Iraqi citizens has been one of the contentious areas of debate with the Iraqis over a new security agreement that would keep U.S. forces in the country after a U.N. mandate expires at year's end.

Many Iraqi officials want the country's courts to have sole responsibility for arresting and detaining Iraqi citizens.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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