The U.S. military said Monday it plans to expand its prisons across Iraq to hold as many as 16,000 detainees, as the relentless insurgency shows no sign of letup one year after the transfer of sovereignty to Iraqi authorities.
The plans were announced on a day three U.S. Army soldiers were killed — two pilots whose helicopter crashed north of Baghdad and a soldier who was shot in the capital. At least four Iraqis died in a car bomb attack in the capital.
The AH-64 crashed in Mishahda, 20 miles north of the capital, and witness Mohammed Naji told Associated Press Television News he saw two helicopters flying toward Mishahda when “a rocket hit one of them and destroyed it completely in the air.”
The prison population at three military complexes throughout the country — Abu Ghraib, Camp Bucca and Camp Cropper — has nearly doubled from 5,435 in June 2004 to 10,002 now, said Lt. Col. Guy Rudisill, a spokesman for detainee operations in Iraq. Some 400 non-Iraqis are among the inmates, according to the military.
‘We are at surge capacity’
“We are past the normal capacity for both Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca. We are at surge capacity,” Rudisill said. “We are not at normal capacity for Camp Cropper.”
The burgeoning prison population has forced the U.S. military to begin renovations on existing facilities, and work has also begun on restoring an old Iraqi military barracks near Sulaimaniyah, 160 miles northeast of Baghdad.
The facility, to be called Fort Suse, is expected to be completed by Sept. 30 and will have room for 2,000 new detainees, Rudisill said.
All renovations should be done by February and are expected to make room for 16,000 detainees in Iraq, he said.
Two weeks ago, the military completed a new 400-detainee compound at Abu Ghraib, which the U.S. government sought to tear down after it became a symbol of an abuse scandal. It was kept in service after the Iraqi government objected. A new compound of the same size should be finished by the end of July at Abu Ghraib, Rudisill said.
The spokesman attributed the rise in the number of prisoners to “successful ongoing military operations against the insurgency and terrorists.”
No slowdown in carnage
Those operations, however, have not stemmed the daily carnage demoralizing the country of 26 million people. With the Sunni Arab-dominated insurgency targeting the Shiite majority, the wave of killings has slowly been pushing the country toward civil war.
Dozens of foreign fighters have been reported killed in U.S.-led offensives in recent months, including Operation Spear at the porous Syrian border last week, but the deaths have had little effect on the resolve and ability of suicide bombers to strike at will.
Al-Qaida in Iraq, headed by Jordanian-born extremist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has claimed responsibility for many of the attacks carried out by such fighters, but there are other insurgent groups — including homegrown factions.
On Monday, the U.S. military raised the death toll in last week’s Fallujah attack to six, announcing that three women service members were killed in the ambush on an American convoy.
At least 1,740 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. At least 1,334 died as a result of hostile action. The figures include five military civilians.
There have been positive developments in the year since the June 28, 2004 handover, the most notable being the election of the 275-member National Assembly on Jan. 30, Iraq’s first free vote in a half-century. The assembly appointed the rest of the government the following month.
Smaller gains have been made as well.
The number of telephone and Internet subscribers has increased nearly threefold, according to the Washington-based Brookings Institution, and the number of trained Iraqi judges has doubled.
However, the insurgency — estimated at about 16,000 Iraqi militants and foreign fighters — has drastically overshadowed the improvements and created havoc around the country. The situation has forced the implementation of a daily 11 p.m. curfew in Baghdad.
Car bombings have become one of the most devastating methods used by the insurgency. There have been more than 484 since the handover, killing at least 2,221 people and wounding more than 5,574, according to an AP count.
Unemployment remained high at 27-40 percent in May compared with 30-40 percent in June 2004. About $5 billion of U.S. money still remains from the $18.4 billion reconstruction package approved in 2003, according to the House Appropriations foreign operations subcommittee.