Tue, Oct 07, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Iraqis demand back pay as prison camp closes

AFP , BAGHDAD

US-led troops in Baghdad and Basra yesterday braced for more protests amid tension after two days of violent clashes with Iraqi army veterans angry at not receiving the back pay they had been promised.

In another development, US military officials announced they had closed a makeshift prison camp at Baghdad airport that had become notorious amid allegations of overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.

In the center of Baghdad, about 150 people stood in a tense face-off with US troops outside the compound where they hoped to receive their pay, even though they were told payments were suspended until further notice.

"We will be here every day until they pay us," said an irate Hamza Mahdi, 23, who has been trying to get paid since Sept. 18.

US soldiers said they feared there could be a repeat of the past days' disturbances after clashes on Saturday left two Iraqis dead in Baghdad and one in Basra.

The veterans of ousted president Saddam Hussein's army had lined up in hopes of receiving the one-off payment of US$40 from the US-led occupying forces.

But they were told on Sunday there would be no payments at this stage and that they should stay tuned to radio and television for an announcement on future payments.

Meanwhile, the US military said it shut down Camp Cropper, a notorious makeshift prison facility at the heavily-guarded Baghdad airport where hundreds of Iraqis were held in tents.

The camp, where prisoners were held in the scorching summer heat, had drawn sharp criticism from human rights groups.

US military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel George Krivo said the prisoners were moved to "superior facilities" and that most were taken to Baghdad Central prison.

This, he said was in line with US policy to provide prisoners with "the best possible facilities."

Amnesty International said in June that the conditions in which the prisoners were held at the camp "may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, banned by international law."

In another development, mortar rounds were fired at coalition troops stationed outside the Iraqi city of Karbala yesterday morning, but caused no casualties, military and police officials said.

The attackers managed to flee in the car from which they fired at the camp.

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