ARLINGTON, Va. — About 800 Marines with the 2nd Battalion 2nd Marines will not be replaced when they leave Anbar province next week, Marine Corps officials said Monday.

The move comes as the number of U.S. troops in western Iraq is expected to drop to 26,000 by the first week of December, said Maj. Gen. Martin Post, deputy commanding general of U.S. troops in western Iraq. That’s down from 34,000 in February.

Future troop reductions in western Iraq will depend on the upcoming provincial elections and the status of forces agreement now being hashed out by U.S. and Iraqi officials, Post said.

Unlike other U.S. commanders, Post would not characterize recent security gains as fragile.

The Iraqi security forces have progressed to the point where they don’t need U.S. troops to be first responders, and they have taken the lead with some responsibilities, such as manning entry control points around Ramadi and Fallujah, he said.

"Consistently, the Iraqis are going, ‘We have this; you don’t have to get involved,’ " he said.

Anbar province was once the deadliest place for U.S. troops in Iraq, but public opinion turned against al-Qaida in Iraq in 2006 when it killed a local sheikh, outraging Sunnis in the area.

In the ensuing "awakening" movement, U.S. troops and former Sunni insurgents teamed up to push al-Qaida out of Anbar province, allowing Iraqi troops and police to assume responsibility for security in the province in September.

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