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For the second time in some 18 months, the 1st Cavalry Division will assume command of the U.S. military presence in Baghdad, taking over responsibility Wednesday morning from the 4th Infantry Division.

At a ceremony scheduled to take place at Camp Liberty, the 1st Cav will become the commanding element of Multi-National Division-Baghdad, comprising some 70,000 American, Iraqi and other foreign troops tasked with operating in and around the Iraqi capital.

The command of U.S. forces in Baghdad will be passed from Maj. Gen. J.D. Thurman, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, to Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil Jr., of the 1st Cav.

The 4th ID will be wrapping up its second Iraq deployment in three years and returning to Fort Hood, Texas, where the 1st Cav also is based. In January, the “Ivy” division took over from the 3rd Infantry Division.

According to a military news release, MND-Baghdad includes some 13 brigades of the U.S. Army and recently expanded its battle space to 17,000 square miles. Military officials said that, during the 4th ID’s time in command, the Iraqi army forces “in the lead” of security operations went from one division, three brigades and 13 battalions to two divisions, 10 brigades and 25 battalions.

“Our strategy remains to clear, hold and build,” Thurman was quoted as saying. “We’ve seen positive effects in neighborhoods that we have cleared and continue to protect with combined forces.”

Between January and November, officials said, MND-Baghdad conducted nearly 150 battalion-or-larger-size operations, including 14 air assaults. The division averaged more than 40,000 patrols per month.

In recent months, U.S. military commanders have called Baghdad the most crucial battle in the war. A monthslong effort dubbed Operation Together Forward has been aimed at rooting out sectarian violence, with several units moved into Baghdad and at least one brigade extended from its scheduled redeployment.

The transfer comes at a crucial time in the fight for Baghdad, where sectarian killings, religious militias and reprisal attacks threaten everyday security. In the latest incident, dozens of employees of a government research institute were kidnapped during a daytime raid on their compound. Estimates of the number kidnapped varied between 30 to 150, depending on which Iraqi government entity was providing the figures.

Witnesses said the raid was carried out by gunmen wearing Ministry of Interior command uniforms.

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