New York Times
February 14, 2008

BAGHDAD — The increase in American troops in Iraq over the past year has been accompanied by waves of new Iraqi detainees, inundating the country’s already overburdened prisons and courts, American officials said Wednesday.

American advisers say Iraq’s nascent justice system does not have enough prison beds, investigative judges or lawyers to absorb the thousands of suspects that have been detained since last summer by the augmented American and Iraqi security forces. More than half of the 26,000 prisoners are still awaiting trial, and some have languished for years, American officials said.

The Iraqi legislature approved an amnesty on Wednesday that could free thousands of prisoners. But American officials warned that the Justice Ministry would still require tens of thousands of new prison beds to consolidate detainees being held throughout the country by various agencies, including the police and the army.

The ministry will also have to receive many of the 24,000 additional prisoners held in separate American military prisons, like Camp Bucca in southern Iraq and Abu Ghraib, north of Baghdad.

United States Justice Department advisers briefed reporters on Wednesday during a surprise visit by Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey. He met with Gen. David H. Petraeus, Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker and top Iraqi legal officials, including Chief Justice Medhat al-Mahmoud. The visit was Mr. Mukasey’s first to Iraq since becoming attorney general in November.

“Our efforts, combined with those of the Departments of State and Defense, have already resulted in significant progress,” said Mr. Mukasey, praising the 200 Justice Department employees working on “rule of law” issues in Iraq.

But several of those employees told reporters that improvements were being hindered by government inaction, corruption and sectarianism.

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