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The U.S. military officially has launched an effort to give nearly 8,000 up-armored Humvees to the Iraqi Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense by the end of 2009.

A ceremony Thursday at Camp Taji, north of Baghdad, marked the beginning of the transfer program, with an initial goal of delivering 4,200 of the Humvees by the end of this year, officials said.

The program involves refurbishing and refitting Humvees used by U.S. troops, repainting them and transferring them to the government of Iraq. The program cost for fiscal 2008 is $123 million, officials said Friday. That figure includes $50 million to purchase the vehicles, $60 million for the refurbishment contracts and $13 million for vehicle parts.

In a news release, Maj. Gen. George Smith, identified as the Security Assistance Office director, said the Humvees “will provided protected mobility for the many Iraqi Security Forces who will receive them.”

On Friday, officials said there are some 600 Humvees already in a holding yard, “ready to undergo a maintenance overhaul of brakes, belts and fluids before the appropriate paint scheme is applied.”

“The refurbishment process is a 13-month program … the contract can be extended by an additional six months,” the news release read. The contract also created some 500 jobs and “has the potential to serve as an on-the-job training mechanism for those Iraqi Army soldiers.”

The transfer program is administered by the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq, which has a mission of training, equipping, organizing and sustaining the new Iraqi security forces.

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