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FALLUJAH, Iraq — "Very little" would change if Iraqis regained security control of Anbar province tomorrow, according to the commander of U.S. forces in the region, although the ceremony formally marking the handover has been delayed indefinitely.

Iraqi leaders postponed the ceremony due to fear that Americans would pull out of the region soon to focus elsewhere.

The event was originally scheduled for early July in the Anbar provincial capital of Ramadi. At the time, U.S. officials said the ceremony was delayed because of weather. Since, Iraqi officials have balked at the handover.

"In Anbar, they love the Marines. If anyone tells you different, they are lying," said Brig. Gen. Ali, commander of an Iraqi unit in the area. "The Iraqi people are very happy Americans are helping them go from dark to light."

Maj. Gen. John F. Kelly, commander of Multi–National Forces–West, said Saturday in an interview recorded and released by the command that "We could call it a victory and walk away tomorrow if the economy picked up significantly."

Maj. Gabrielle Chapin, a spokeswoman for MNF-West, said Monday, the Marine Corps doesn’t determine when it will happen; that’s a decision made by Iraqi government officials.

Once the ceremony happens, "their biggest concern is that we’re going to pull out; that we’re not going to be around anymore. They like to have us around," Kelly said.

Faisal Hamad Khlaf, the mayor of Karma, near Fallujah, said his wish would be for Marines to remain in Anbar throughout his time in office "so that they will keep the security in the city."

But once the handover does happen, Marines will remain in the province to provide assistance and support, Kelly said.

"From a security point of view, if PIC (provincial Iraqi control) happened tomorrow, very, very little would change because we’re already there," he said.

Many of the hundreds of military checkpoints that once choked the province’s highways were removed from March to May in coordination with the Iraqi police, he said.

Marine convoys have also begun sharing the road.

"When you’re down here in Anbar and driving around, they don’t have to stop when a military convoy approaches," Kelly said.

After the Iraqi police stations in the province, which number about 100, were assessed, it was decided that Marines no longer needed to man any station full time, Kelly said.

Marine focus has shifted to building the province’s economy and the reconstruction of its infrastructure, Kelly said. This means working with local leaders and the central government on projects such as getting industries started in Fallujah and Ramadi, rebuilding schools in Karma and building homes throughout the province.

"My efforts primarily are connecting the central government to the people of Anbar, and at the same time convincing the people of Anbar it’s not a neglect of them by the government but just a new government learning how to be a government," Kelly said.

"There’s a certain level of frustration that things aren’t moving quick enough but, in general, they are satisfied that things are moving in the right direction."


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