updated 9/22/2008 12:01:36 PM ET 2008-09-22T16:01:36

The Iraqi government will begin paying the salaries of about 54,000 of the mostly Sunni fighters in Baghdad Province who joined the fight against al-Qaida, the No. 2 U.S. commander there said Monday.

While the transfer next month will mark more progress in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin said that despite significant declines in violence in the Anbar Province, the U.S. military is not likely to further reduce troop levels there in the near future.

Austin told reporters the decision to divert one Marine battalion to Afghanistan later this year, rather than to Iraq as initially planned, will not be followed quickly by additional drawdowns.

The U.S. transferred control of Anbar to the Iraqis three weeks ago, a move that military leaders would not have thought possible a year ago. Though Anbar "continues to maintain a very low level of violence even after the transfer," Austin said that "for the foreseeable future, I am not forecasting a further drawdown of capability in Anbar."

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