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ARLINGTON, Va. — About 25,000 Marines and sailors with the I Marine Expeditionary Force are heading to Iraq to replace about the same number of troops with the II Marine Expeditionary Force currently in Iraq, officials said.

The I MEF units will deploy mostly in two seven-month rotations beginning in January 2006, a news release from I MEF says.

Units deploying will include the 1st Marine Division, the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing and the 1st Marine Logistics Group, the news release says.

The deployment will mark the third tour for at least one of the IMEF units, but not all the Marines in that unit have deployed three times, said I MEF spokeswoman Capt, Megan McClung on Thursday.

The rotation will not raise overall U.S. troop strength in Iraq next year, officials said.

Gen. George Casey, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, has said U.S. troop strength in Iraq is expected to return to the baseline level of about 138,000 at the end of January or in early February.

U.S. troop levels in Iraq were boosted to about 160,000 ahead of the October referendum on the Iraqi constitution and the recent parliamentary elections.

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