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ARLINGTON, Va. — The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit is expected to arrive in Iraq this summer, officials said.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has signed orders for the unit to head to the U.S. Central Command theater operations this June for further duty in Iraq, officials said.

The 13th MEU is currently on Guam, according to the Marine Corps.

As of Friday morning Guam time, the unit had not received orders to go to Iraq, said 13th MEU spokeswoman 1st Lt. Pamela Marshall in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes.

A senior Defense official said Friday that the 13th MEU will head to Kuwait as the next call-forward force.

The unit would replace the 26th MEU, which is currently training in Kuwait for two weeks as the CENTCOM strategic reserve, the official said.

It is ultimately up to commanders on the ground to decide whether the 13th MEU will go to Iraq to replace the 15th MEU, which recently left the CENTCOM area of operations after serving in Iraq, the official said.

In November, the 15th MEU arrived in Kuwait as the call-forward force and was quickly dispatched to Anbar province.

A spokesman for the U.S. commander in Iraq declined to comment Friday on whether the 13th MEU is headed to Iraq.

“Anything with the forces coming in or before they come into Iraq is up to CENTCOM and the services to discuss,” said Col. Steven Boylan in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes.

The 13th MEU’s deployment comes as the U.S. is building up its troop presence in Iraq to clamp down on the violence gripping the country.

There are currently 146,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, said Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros.

Three of the five “surge” brigades and two additional Marine battalions are already on the ground, and two more brigades are expected to arrive by mid-June, Gen. David Petraeus told reporters Thursday.

Petraeus, commander of Multi-National Force — Iraq, said he will prepare a report in September on how effective the “surge” has been.

“I have an obligation to some wonderful young men and women in uniform, and a lot of civilians, by the way, who are serving in Iraq and who deserve a forthright assessment from the folks at the top about the situation on the ground, and that’s what I’m going to provide,” he said.


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