Officials at the base said the first elements of two battalions, each with about 750 paratroopers, would move on Friday and the transit of 1500 would be completed early next week.

The Pentagon said this week that a force of 138,000 US troops currently in Iraq would be increased by the end of December to 150,000, the highest level of the entire war, which began in March 2003.

Previously, the largest number of US troops on the ground in Iraq during the 20-month war was 148,000 in May 2003. But fighters opposed to the presence of foreign forces in Iraq have killed hundreds of US troops in recent months. More than 1250 Americans have died since the invasion.

Iraqi fighters have killed
hundreds of US troops

The 150,000-strong US troop level will continue until at least March and will include extensions of promised year-long Iraq tours of 8100 army soldiers to 14 months and the seven-month tours of 2300 marines to nine months.

Army Brigadier General David Rodriguez, deputy director of operations on the US military's joint staff, said the build-up would "keep insurgents on the run ... keep the pressure on them."

The 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 325th Airborne Infantry
Regiment of the 82nd division based at Fort Bragg will remain
in Iraq on temporary duty for at least three months.

"Some elements are moving today," said Sergeant 1st Class Chris Fletcher, a spokesman for the division. "We expect that will be completed early next week."