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Monday, January 14, 2008       Free Headline Alerts

Anbar to revert to Iraqi control in March

BAGHDAD — The U.S. military plans to return Iraq's largest province to government control in March 2008.

Officials said the military has determined that Anbar, which until mid-2007 was the hotbed of the Sunni insurgency, was ready to be transferred to the responsibility of the Baghdad government. They said U.S. and Iraqi forces have significantly reduced the Al Qaida presence in the province.

"I can say that the Anbar province, which was the hottest area of Iraq, does not now need any [U.S.] forces because the [number] of the attacks is now zero for months now," Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul Qader Al Obeidi said.

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In 2007, the U.S. military had as many as 35,000 troops in Anbar, Middle East Newsline reported. Officials said the U.S. surge, combined with the recruitment of Sunni tribes to the Iraqi security forces, led to a significant decline in violence.

"Anbar province, once considered a stronghold of Al Qaida, has been reclaimed for the Iraqi people," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.

So far, nine of Iraq's 18 provinces have reverted to Baghdad's control. The most violence provinces were identified as Diyala, Kirkuk, Nineveh and Salah Eddin.

Officials said Anbar has established a security committee to ensure order without the direct involvement of the U.S.-led coalition. They said the committee has been trained in disaster scenarios amid a U.S. withdrawal.

Under the plan, most of the U.S. troops would withdraw from Anbar in May. After that, a small U.S. force would remain throughout 2008 and help train the Iraq Army and police.

"We clearly are hoping that the reconciliation and improvement in the political environment that has taken place at the local and provincial level over the past number of months will now meet further progress coming at the national level," Gates said.

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