ISIS, which remains in control of large areas of Iraq’s western Anbar province, blocked off the flow of water through the dam earlier this week, strategically flooding areas between Fallujah and Baghdad, including Abu Ghraib, in order to stall the advance of government troops.
The Iraqi Justice Ministry issued a statement confirming that a total of 2,400 prisoners being held in Abu Ghraib had been transferred to other prisons in central and northern Iraq, describing the move as a “precautionary measure.”
The parliamentary Security and Defense Committee issued a statement saying that the closure of Abu Ghraib “sends the wrong message—that there is a lack of assurance [regarding the security situation]—and this will create a state of anxiety and panic among the Iraqi people regarding what is going to happen in the coming period.”
A member of the parliamentary Security and Defense Committee, MP Hakim Al-Zamili, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Abu Ghraib prison is not fit to house prisoners and detainees. It is old, and there has been more than one incident of prison break. We have always called for an alternative to Abu Ghraib; however, the closure of the prison at this juncture is another matter. We warned against this, as it sends an alarming message regarding the situation that the country is passing through.”
The decision to close the prison comes as Iraqi parliamentary elections scheduled for April 30 approach amid a security vacuum in the restive western Anbar province and political divisions engulfing Baghdad, with a number of prominent parties from across the political spectrum warning against a third term for sitting prime minister Nuri Al-Maliki. Maliki’s most prominent critics include the Sunni-dominated Mutahidoun bloc led by Iraqi Parliamentary Speaker Osama Al-Nujaifi and the Sadrist Movement and its political wing, Al-Ahrar.
Zamili, an Al-Ahrar MP, said: “The decision to close the prison and transfer the prisoners sends an alarming message. Firstly to the Iraqi people who will be beset by anxiety and fear about what is happening, particularly with regards to the continued threats from terrorist groups like ISIS and others. The second message is to the terrorists who will feel that they are beginning to force the authorities to take action and this could serve to raise their morale.”
He added: “The right solution would be for there to be a military force capable of retaking the territory [held by ISIS] and not allowing terrorists to expand their influence, and that includes expelling them from the Fallujah dam.”