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Published:September 1st, 2008 14:19 EST
Anbar province now secured by Iraqi forces

Anbar province now secured by Iraqi forces

By SOP newswire

The U.S. military has handed control of Iraq`s once violent Anbar province to Iraqi security forces.

Marine Major General John KellyAt a ceremony marking the handover Monday, the commander of U.S. troops in Anbar warned that the struggle against insurgents in the western region is not yet over.  But the commander, Marine Major General John Kelly, said the goal is very near.

Anbar, now one of Iraq`s most peaceful regions, is the 11th of 18 Iraqi provinces the United States has returned to Iraqi control.

U.S. forces will withdraw to bases and rejoin Iraqi operations in Anbar only at the request of the provincial governor.

President Bush praised the handover as a major achievement.  In a statement today, Mr. Bush said the Iraqi people have transformed and reclaimed the region, and he said the United States will continue to work with Iraq to defeat the remaining threats.

Anbar is a Sunni-dominated province whose inhabitants turned against U.S. forces soon after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.  Anbar towns, such as Fallujah and Ramadi became insurgent strongholds, where militants waged fierce battles against U.S. troops.

Violence in Anbar began to subside in 2006 when Sunni tribes became weary of al-Qaida`s brutality against the local population.  The tribes formed councils and joined U.S.-led forces in fighting the group.

The U.S. military says there are around 25,000 American troops in Anbar, down from 37,000 in February.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.