U.S. troops shift focus to rural Iraq

June 29, 2009 at 10:22 AM
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BAGHDAD, June 29 (UPI) -- U.S. combat troops, preparing to leave Iraqi cities on Tuesday, are working to secure rural areas officials say are hideouts for insurgents.

U.S. military officials said the shift is to prevent a revival of violence in Baghdad and other cities by augmenting security in less-populated areas where insurgents stash weapons and operate with greater freedom, USA Today reported Monday.

"The major mission for us is to stop activity from going into Baghdad," said Lt. Col. Jim Bradford, commander of the 1st Battalion 63rd Armor Regiment, which began patrolling west of Iraq's capital.

Iraq declared Tuesday a national holiday, National Sovereignty Day, to mark the handover of security control to Iraqi forces.

Army Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said U.S. forces already are out of the cities in Iraq, ahead of Tuesday's deadline.

"It is time for them (Iraqis) to take responsibility inside the cities," Odierno said on "Fox News Sunday."

The U.S. military already transferred control of more than 151 installations to Iraqi forces.

About 130,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq and will be available for combat operations if needed, USA Today said. A unspecified number of troops will remain in cities as advisers and trainers for Iraqi security forces.

Under a U.S.-Iraqi security agreement, U.S. combat forces to leave Iraq by Aug. 31, 2010, and all U.S. troops are to be out by the end of 2011.

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