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U.S. hands over Anbar, Iraq's once-deadliest region

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A year ago, "the terrorists controlled this town," says Mr. Gaaod. They used to finance their operations by extorting money from local businesses, "but right now nobody can speak with anyone about donations [bribes] because we have the police, the Army, and intelligence. The people are not afraid of the terrorists anymore," he says.

Since early 2007, the number of Iraqi police in Anbar has grown from 11,000 to 23,000. During that same time period, the number of Iraqi troops based in Anbar grew from 8,300 to 24,000, say US officials. Since February, 9,000 US servicemen have left Anbar, leaving 28,000. The boom in security forces combined with shrinking local support for terrorist activity has made it difficult for Al Qaeda to operate in Anbar and the rest of Iraq.

"Because of the operational tempo [of Iraqi and US forces], Al Qaeda doesn't have a main operating area where they can regroup, plan, or resupply," says a senior US military official. "So you've got this group of terrorists who don't have the capacity to do the careful planning, build up large stock piles of weapons, so when they do go in it's much less frequent and at times somewhat less deadly."

Officials concede that Al Qaeda and other groups are still a threat capable of carrying out high profile attacks. Two weeks ago in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar, a suicide car bomber killed five policemen and wounded seven others when he detonated himself at a police checkpoint.

Despite persistent attacks such as these, many Anbar residents who fled during the peak of fighting have returned.

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