By Pol O Gradaigh and Kadhem Al-Attabi
BAGHDAD — Iraqi authorities have closed the notorious Abu Ghraib prison near the capital Baghdad for security reasons and evacuated all its prisoners, the Justice Ministry announced Tuesday.
The complex’s 2,400 inmates had been moved to other prisons in northern and central Iraq, the announcement said, without specifying when the operation had taken place.
Abu Ghraib, Baghdad’s central prison, lies about 20 miles west of the capital in the Sunni-dominated al-Anbar province, where local and pan-Arab media reported clashes on Monday and Tuesday.
Security forces loyal to the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have been battling Sunni jihadists of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant in the province since January.
The Iraqi army’s head of operations in the region was killed along with a number of other officers in a helicopter crash, army officials said.
The officials, who were not authorized to give their names, said that the crash was due to a technical fault.
ISIL is reportedly in control of the city of Fallujah, an additional 20 miles to the west, and it recently published video clips of what it said was a military parade by its fighters in Abu Ghraib.
In July ISIL attacked Abu Ghraib and another prison north of Baghdad, and it alleged to have liberated 500 inmates.
Abu Ghraib prison became notorious after pictures of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi detainees in the complex were made public in 2004.
ISIL has its origins in al-Qaida in Iraq but has broken away from the international network as it seeks to control territory in neighboring Syria against the instructions of al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri.
Tension is high in Iraq ahead of parliamentary elections due to be held on April 30 in which al-Maliki is seeking a third consecutive term.
In recent months, the country has seen almost daily attacks mainly targeting security forces and Shiite civilians.
According to U.N. estimates, 8,868 people were killed in violence in 2013, Iraq’s highest annual death toll in five years.
AFP Photo/Mauricio Lima