The largest of America’s two prisons in Iraq, Camp Bucca, will close by the weekend as the US military winds down the highly contentious detention programme it has run for the last six years. From next week only one US-run facility — Camp Cropper — will still be operating. That too is expected to close by the end of the year, leaving only 1,000 allegedly “hardcore” detainees in joint US and Iraqi hands.

At its peak Camp Bucca held about 26,000 inmates, many of whom were thought to be Islamic extremists and factional leaders in the sectarian war that ravaged Iraq in 2006 and 2007. The sprawling desert compound, near Umm Qasr in southern Iraq, was described by prisoners as harsh.

British forces had initially used the camp as a prisoner of war facility after the 2003 invasion, but it was gradually transformed into a detention centre.

Camp Bucca gained prominence after the Abu Ghraib scandal that revealed the abuse of Iraqi detainees in 2004. Since then, the US has tried to shake off the stigma of Abu Ghraib by offering education, training and family visits to detainees in Camp Bucca and Camp Cropper.

Improved conditions won cautious support, but the ongoing detention of Iraqis and the slow pace of investigations were still widely condemned.

The US military has been releasing about 1,000 prisoners each month this year. Some will face the Iraqi justice system, but the majority of those released have not been charged. By early next year only one official US-run facility is likely to exist — a newly-built prison at Taji airbase, north of Baghdad. The US government maintains several other non-declared prisons in Iraq.

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