Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Obama Makes Unannounced Visit To Baghdad

From the NY Times:
BAGHDAD - President Obama made an unannounced trip to Baghdad on Tuesday, punctuating his week-long overseas trip with a stop to talk to American troops and Iraqi leaders.
Air Force One landed at Baghdad International Airport under heavy security at 4:42 in the afternoon after military officials shut down the airport.

Mr. Obama, at the Al Faw Palace at Camp Victory to meet with military leaders, said he came to Baghdad “to say thanks to the troops. They are doing extraordinary work.”

He also said that Iraqi leaders have made “significant political progress.”

Mr. Obama’s trip here was his first since becoming president. He has quickly moved to reshape the war since January, announcing plans to draw down troops as he begins to shift the military’s focus to the troubled war in Afghanistan.

Although violence has dropped substantially in Iraq in recent months, Mr. Obama’s visit came a day after at least 33 people died in six car bombings. On Tuesday, another car bomb blew up in Baghdad; a police official said that eight people were killed.

Aboard the plane to Iraq, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that Mr. Obama had planned to take a helicopter from the airport into the city to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, but that poor weather conditions canceled the trip. Officials said later that Mr. Maliki would travel to Camp Victory to meet with Mr. Obama.

Suspicions had been high that Mr. Obama would go to either Afghanistan or Iraq at the end of his trip, but White House officials kept the plans under a tight lock.

In February, Mr. Obama announced an Iraq troop drawdown that would leave the bulk of American forces in place until early next year, while some combat units would remain in place in new roles even beyond a declared August 2010 target for withdrawal.

The plan would maintain relatively high troop levels through Iraq’s parliamentary elections, to be held in December.

Speaking at university in Istanbul on Tuesday before he left for Baghdad, Mr. Obama told students that he had opposed the Iraq war in 2003 and had pushed for a quick withdrawal. But he said that once he became president, he had to make sure that the drawdown of troops was carefully staged.

“I have a responsibility to make sure that as we bring troops out, that we do so in a careful enough way that we don’t see a complete collapse into violence,” Mr. Obama said. “So some people might say, wait, I thought you were opposed to the war, why don’t you just get them all out right away? Well, just because I was opposed at the outset, it doesn’t’ mean that I don’t have now responsibilities to make sure that we do things in a responsible fashion.”........

“Moving the ship of state is a slow process,” Mr. Obama said. “States are like big tankers. They’re not like speedboats.”

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