In Surprise Visit, Bush Praises Progress In Iraq

President Bush made one last visit to Iraq as president on Sunday. There was much pomp and circumstance, and talk of America's support for and friendship with the Iraqis — until an Iraqi journalist hurled his shoes at the president. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR's Baghdad bureau chief, talks to host Jacki Lyden about President Bush's visit to Iraq.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Jacki Lyden. President Bush made a quick trip today to the country that's been the focus of much of his time in office, Iraq. He tried to paint his visit as a good faith gesture.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: And the work hasn't been easy, but it has been necessary for American security, Iraqi hope, and world peace.

LYDEN: But the scene people will remember - the president ducking two shoes hurled at him during a press conference. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro is in Baghdad and said, early on, there was very little drama.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: The day began with a pomp and ceremony, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani greeting President Bush inside the heavily fortified green zone. There was a marching band, a red carpet. All this was broadcast live on Iraqi state television. That was a first. Normally, the president's whereabouts on a trip like this would have been kept hidden because of a fear of attacks, and that clearly was meant to be a show of the president's contention that things here have improved.

Mr. Bush also met, of course, with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The two signed a copy of the security agreement between the U.S. and Iraq that will go into effect on January 1st. That agreement has already been approved, but the brief signing ceremony was another symbolic gesture that was intended to show that Iraq is now a sovereign nation.

LYDEN: Lots of pomp, but I gather there was a mitigating circumstance?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. Just as President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki were about to give a joint news conference, an Iraqi TV journalist threw both his shoes at the president, narrowly missing him. In Iraq, throwing one's shoes at someone is considered a very serious insult.

In 2003, if you'll remember, when the statue of Saddam Hussein was pulled down in Baghdad, people clamored around it hitting it with the soles of their shoes. In response to the incident, Mr. Bush said he did not feel threatened by what happened and joked that the shoes looked like a size 10.

LYDEN: Lulu, how significant a trip is this for President Bush?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, part of the reason for this visit is to highlight what the Bush administration says is real progress here. Yes, there have been security gains since the worst of the sectarian violence in Iraq in 2006, 2007, but this is still a violent country. A car bombing near the northern oil city of Kirkuk killed over 50 people just two day ago. So, Bush's legacy in Iraq will be hotly debated, and this is his last chance to see it for himself and to get the message that this war was worth it out.

LYDEN: NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Baghdad. Thank you very much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome.

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