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Lt. Todd Richardson, of 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines, gets some clarification on neighborhood borders in Subayht, Iraq, in October. Anbar province was the second focus of the last year’s “surge.” Cities like Ramadi and Hit were brought under of control since it began.

Lt. Todd Richardson, of 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines, gets some clarification on neighborhood borders in Subayht, Iraq, in October. Anbar province was the second focus of the last year’s “surge.” Cities like Ramadi and Hit were brought under of control since it began. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)

The outgoing commander of U.S. Marine units in western Iraq says the province will be returned to Iraqi control in March, according to reports this week.

In an interview with The Associated Press published Thursday, Maj. Gen. Walter E. Gaskin said levels of violence had dropped significantly and that the Iraqi troops had grown in number and capability enough to have the transfer occur.

If so, the move would cap a remarkable turnaround in what had been the heart of the Sunni insurgency for many years of the war. But in the past year, Sunni tribes in Anbar have aligned themselves with American troops, turning against al-Qaida in Iraq attacks.

“We all agree that, based on the requirements, Anbar will be ready at that time [March],” Gaskin said, according to the AP.

As in other areas of Iraq when nominal security control is handed back to the Iraqis, American troops will remain in the province. Gaskin said that two Marine battalions that were part of the “surge” of additional troops to the area would leave in May. Beyond that, he did not say if further cutbacks would happen.

Anbar was the second focus of the “surge” which brought more than 30,000 additional troops to Iraq last year. While many were sent to Baghdad, extra Marine units were used in Anbar. Cities like Ramadi and Hit, long among the most dangerous in Iraq, were brought under levels of control not seen since the war began.

Nine of the 18 Iraqi provinces have so far been handed back to Iraqi control; the last came when the British handed back Basra in December.

Gaskin took command in Anbar in February 2007 and is scheduled to leave next month. He will be replaced by Maj. Gen. John Kelly.


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