The Bush administration suggested that prisons in Iraq where hundreds of detainees apparently were abused were only "nominally" under the control of the central government in Baghdad.
While the central government, with US help, is trying to take charge of these prisons the Interior ministry, which runs them may have its own way of doing things, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli suggested on Tuesday.
The statement acknowledged weakness in the Iraqi government, but also credited it with trying to address a problem that undercuts the administration's case that reform is taking hold since the toppling of President Saddam Hussein.
US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said earlier this month that at least 120 abused prisoners were found in two detention facilities run by the Shiite-led Interior Ministry.
Even before then, Sunni Arabs had complained about abuse and torture by Interior Ministry security forces.
The US military said Sunday it would not hand over detention facilities or individual detainees to Iraqi officials until they have demonstrated higher standards of care.