BAGHDAD — The U.S. military has handed over Tariq Aziz and dozens of other members of Saddam Hussein's inner circle to Iraqi authorities who will assume control today of the last American-run detention facility in the country.
The only Christian in Hussein's mainly Sunni regime, Aziz, 74, became internationally known as the dictator's defender and a fierce American critic as foreign minister after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and later as a deputy prime minister who frequently traveled abroad on diplomatic missions.
Although the Americans will continue to hold 200 problematic detainees, the changing of the guard at Camp Cropper will mean the end of a mammoth U.S. prison system that has processed more than 100,000 Iraqis in the seven years since the fall of Baghdad.
It will also close a chapter on one of the most bitter legacies of the war, the images in 2004 of prisoners being abused by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib.
Camp Cropper, which currently houses about 1,800 inmates on the southwestern outskirts of Baghdad near the international airport, is the last of three U.S. prisons handed over to Iraqi control. Camp Bucca was transferred last September, and Camp Taji, a detention facility at an air base just north of Baghdad, in January.
Iraqi officials insist they are ready.
"We have been running dozens of prisons, and we are confident of our ability to run all prisons," Deputy Justice Minister Busho Ibrahim said.