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Iraqi forces have taken over security responsibilities for a southern area of Diyala province where a recent offensive was launched.

Security for the Balad Ruz district — which was the subject last week of a "clear and search" operation led called "Operation Saber Pursuit" — was handed over from the U.S. Army’s 2nd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment to Iraqi police and the 18th Brigade, 5th Iraqi Army Division.

"The Iraqis are ready to take over this area," Faris Radi Abas, the Balad Ruz police chief, was quoted as saying in a U.S. military news release. "Our people are ready to come back to their homes and support the coalition and Iraqi forces."

Last week, U.S. officials said Operation Saber Pursuit had gone from a combat focus to community building. But, like many previous U.S. operations in Diyala, troops faced little resistance, and suspected insurgents had fled well before the combined U.S. and Iraqi forces arrived.

Soldiers began Saber Pursuit by rounding up all the men in area villages and questioning them to find out if any were insurgents. They initially found that insurgents had already fled the villages and cleared out many of their weapons cache sites.

But they encountered more people as they worked their way through the area, according to Maj. Cameron Cantlon, the 2nd Squadron executive officer.

These people have also helped the soldiers uncover the insurgents’ hidden weapons.

Iraqi soldiers with 18th Brigade, 5th Iraqi Army Division and American soldiers with 2nd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment unearthed 12 caches near Hamud, Iraq. The caches contained 60 mm mortar rounds with a mortar tube, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher with various grenades and several AK-47 assault rifles.

Soldiers are now assessing the communities to find out what they need and to propose solutions to their problems. Iraqi soldiers are also meeting with local officials and residents.

Insurgents had previously returned to the area after coalition forces swept through. But commanders say they won’t be able to do that this time because Iraqi soldiers will be staying behind and more Iraqi police will be hired to help them.

Nearly 50,000 Iraqi police and soldiers are also involved in operations against al-Qaida in Iraq throughout Diyala province, a senior provincial official said Wednesday.


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