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Monday, January 25, 2010     FOR YOUR EYES ONLY

Marines hand over command to Iraqis in Anbar

BAGHDAD — The U.S. Marine Corps has concluded a significant step in plans to withdraw from Iraq.   

The Marine Corps has ended its command of Iraq's largest province ahead of plans for national elections in March 2010. After more than six years, the Marines transferred responsibility to the U.S. Army for Anbar, long regarded as the biggest stronghold of Al Qaida.

"Much has been done to advance the goals of stability and prosperity," Marine Maj. Gen. R.T. Tyron, commander of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force, said. "Yet there is still much to do."

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The Marines began deployment in Anbar in 2003 in the wake of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. At one point, 25,000 Marines were stationed in Anbar, a number that has dwindled to 3,000. Anbar borders Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria.

"There continues to be a lingering element bent on creating havoc and preventing the good people of Anbar from enjoying the fruits of a normal, peaceful life," Tyron told a command transfer ceremony on Jan. 23.

Officials said the remaining Marines would be withdrawn from Anbar by April 2010. They said U.S. officers would continue to advise the Iraqi security forces, particularly on border security with neighboring Syria.

"As we move forward, we understand the importance of this year in Iraq and the USD-C team is dedicated to that mission and the tasks ahead," U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Terry Wolff, the new commander in Anbar, said.

Under the changeover, the U.S. Army's 1st Armored Division would assume responsibility for both Anbar and Baghdad. The U.S. military plans to reduce its presence to 50,000 troops by August 2010.

"The goal that we all seek is the Iraqis securing their own election, and that the election is fair and the election is free," Wolff said.

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