The U.S. military has begun to free the southbound lanes of a major highway, south of Baghdad, which have been closed to public use since shortly after the invasion.

According to an Army news release, those lanes of Highway 1 — which have been closed to all traffic except military convoys since late 2003 — soon will be reopened.

American forces have begun reconstruction work on the road, hiring Iraqi contractors to repair damage from all the use by heavy trucks. A bypass road will also be built during the process, officials said.

"Any closure of the lanes will be in coordination with the government of Iraq," Lt. Col. Christopher D. Lestochi, 54th Engineer Battalion commander, was quoted as saying in a news release.

Iraqi forces will begin setting up checkpoints on the highway, which is scheduled for completion in early June.

Since the beginning of the war, the route has been a major thoroughfare for U.S. troops and supplies moving up from Kuwait into central and northern Iraq.

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