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06-13-06, 11:09 AM #1
Bush makes surprise visit to Iraq
Bush makes surprise visit to Iraq
President’s trip expected to last 5 hours, includes meeting with PM
NBC News and news services
Updated: 8:52 a.m. CT June 13, 2006
BAGHDAD, Iraq - President Bush made a surprise visit to Iraq on Tuesday to meet newly named Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and discuss the next steps in the troubled, 3-year-old war.
“Good to see you,” exclaimed al-Maliki, who didn’t know Bush was in Baghdad until five minutes before they met at a palace once used by Saddam Hussein.
“Thanks for having me,” Bush responded. They smiled broadly and gave each other a two-handed handshake in the high-domed marble room. The former palace now serves temporarily as the U.S. Embassy.
The first report of Bush’s visit came via Iraqi state television, and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad confirmed the visit with NBC News.
The prime minister had been invited to the embassy on the pretense of taking part in a video conference with Bush, supposedly at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland's Catoctin Mountins. The videoconference was to go on as scheduled, but with Bush appearing alongside al-Maliki.
It was a dramatic move by Bush, traveling to violence-rattled Baghdad less than a week after the death of terror chief Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in a bombing attack. The administration hoped the elimination of Zarqawi and the completion of al-Maliki’s cabinet would make war-weary Americans look at Iraq in a more positive light.
Aside from al-Maliki and his cabinet, Bush was to see Jalal Talibani, Iraq’s largely ceremonial president. Bush also was to meet with the speaker of the parliament, national political leaders and U.S. troops during his five-hour visit.
Bush flew here secretly from talks at Camp David, Maryland with senior national security advisers who gathered Monday to review how to bolster Iraq’s fledgling government and its capacity to handle the country’s defense.
A risky helicopter ride, more violence
Air Force One landed in hazy daylight at Baghdad Airport, where the temperature was above 100 degrees.
Then, Bush transferred to a helicopter for a six-minute ride into the heavily fortified Green Zone. White House officials said the helicopter ride posed the greatest risk for the president.
Another day of violence marked Bush’s visit — dozens of people were killed or wounded Tuesday in explosions in the northern oil city of Kirkuk, and eight bodies were found in western Baghdad. Al-Maliki pledged “no mercy” in a crackdown against insurgents.
Maliki has won U.S. admiration by promising to crack down on militias and sectarian violence, promote national reconciliation and accelerate reconstruction efforts and restore essential services such as electricity.
It was Bush’s second trip to Baghdad in less than three years. He visited American troops at Thanksgiving, 2003, in a visit confined to the airport and limited to several hours. That trip also was kept secret.
After a day of meetings at Camp David, Bush had dinner with his aides and Cabinet members and then returned to his cabin. After darkness, he boarded his helicopter and slipped away, flying to Andrews Air Force Base outside of Washington for the 11-hour flight to Baghdad.
The trip was known only to a handful of aides and a small number of reporters sworn to secrecy because of obvious security threats for Bush and members of his entourage.
Reuters, The Associated Press and NBC News contributed to this report.
© 2006 MSNBC.com
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06-13-06, 11:18 AM #2“Good to see you,” exclaimed al-Maliki
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