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ARLINGTON, Va. — Three of four Marine Corps battalions slated to deploy to Okinawa, Japan, as part of the Corps’ Unit Deployment Program will likely head to Iraq instead, Corps officials said.

While the Corps’ troop rotation plans for the second phase of Iraq deployments have yet to be signed off by the top Pentagon leaders, the “strong indications” are that three battalions — two active from the West Coast and one Reserve — will be Iraq-bound, heading out between February and April, said Corps spokesman Capt. Dan McSweeney.

The two active-duty battalions — the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines from Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, Calif., and the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, from Camp Pendleton, Calif. — already are on Okinawa, having arrived roughly a week ago, McSweeney said.

No details were available Monday on when the approximately 1,600 Marines would leave Okinawa for the Middle East, McSweeney said.

Routinely, four battalions of Marines are on Okinawa at any given time for the UDP, making up 29 percent of Marine forces on Okinawa, McSweeney said.

The infantry UDP exercises give Marines training in areas such as unit maneuvering, ground operations, land navigation and small unit tactic, technique and procedures. And, the forces provide the III Marine Expeditionary Force with a ground combat element to promote regional security and stability in the Pacific theater.

“This doesn’t mean the Marine Corps won’t be able to support any contingencies in the Pacific theater of operation,” McSweeney said. Without getting into specifics, he said the Corps would use “various surges” in other forces and capabilities to address any unforeseen events.

Roughly 25,000 Marines will be heading to Iraq for seven-month deployments as the Pentagon moves into the second phase of rotations. The Marines, a majority of whom will come from bases in California, are slated to replace soldiers from the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, now operating in and around Fallujah, west of Baghdad.

The tapped reserve battalion — the 3rd Battalion, 24th Marines headquartered in Bridgeton, Mo. — first got word in November they would be heading to Okinawa for the six-month UDP. But in mid-December, plans changed and instead the 800 to 900 Marines will deploy to Iraq, said Capt. Jeff Pool, Marine Forces Reserve spokesman in New Orleans.

The 3-24 Marines will be mobilized Jan. 5 on 12-month orders and will spend a few weeks training at Camp Pendleton before deploying with other 1st Marine Division Marines to Iraq, Pool said.

“They are expected to be in country from March to some time in September,” he said.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, about 23,000 Reserve Marines have been activated for operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and in the United States under Operation Noble Eagle, Pool said.

At the peak of mobilizations in mid-May 2003, 21,316 reservists were on active duty — roughly 52 percent of the entire Selected Marine Corps Reserve and the highest percentage of all reserve components serving on active duty, Pool said. Nearly 75 percent of those activated Marines deployed to the Central Command area of operation.

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