Obama Prepares For Trip To Iraq
ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Andrea Seabrook.
Barack Obama has just wrapped up the first leg of his world tour, a two-day stop in Afghanistan, his first visit there. The Democratic presidential candidate met with commanders of American and NATO forces, and today, he sat down with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
In an interview with CBS, Senator Obama described the situation in Afghanistan as precarious, and he said the U.S. needs more troops there immediately.
Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Democratic Presidential Candidate): If we wait until the next administration, it could be a year before we get those additional troops on the ground here in Afghanistan, and I think that would be a mistake. I think the situation is getting urgent enough that we've got to start doing something now.
SEABROOK: Obama is traveling with two colleagues from the Senate, Republican Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island. Tomorrow's stop: Iraq.
NPR correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Baghdad, and Soraya, what are Senator Obama's plans there?
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Well, as best as we can tell, because it's all very hush-hush, the way it was in Afghanistan, he's planning to meet first with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is also planning to go to Germany tomorrow, apparently, so we expect that that meeting will be first.
Afterwards, he will meet with General David Petraeus and spend a lot of time with him. General Petraeus, of course, is the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and was recently named the head of central command, which puts him in charge of all forces in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
SEABROOK: Now, Barack Obama is taking this trip in part to bolster his foreign policy credentials.
NELSON: Yes, absolutely. I mean, certainly that's been the criticism from the Republican side, that he doesn't have enough foreign or military experience, so the fact that he spent almost two days on the ground in Afghanistan, and a lot of that with NATO and U.S. commanders getting a full briefing and also meeting with the heads of state, and now he's coming to Iraq, and he's going to be doing the same thing.
This certainly bolsters his credibility and allows him to refine his timetables and foreign-policy decisions with regards to Afghanistan and Iraq, and he certainly has come out very forcefully that Afghanistan must take the priority.
SEABROOK: Soraya, are Iraqis aware of this visit by Obama, and do they have anything to say about it?
NELSON: Very few seem to actually be aware that he's coming because, just like in Afghanistan, the trip was being kept very secret, but those that we spoke to on the street, they are not that impressed by Senator Obama, they say, because they feel that even though he's making the right noises now, from their perspective in terms of troop withdrawal and bringing peace to the region, they believe that it doesn't really matter who's in the White House, the American are here and that no one is really leaving, and so they don't put much stock into what he has to say.
SEABROOK: I understand there's some debate about what Iraq's prime minister said about Senator Obama's plan to pull out troops in the next 16 months.
NELSON: Yes, it was a week that began with the White House saying that they would agree with the Iraqis. There should be some sort of general time horizon, as they're phrasing it, for a withdrawal, and at that point, even the spokesman for the government, who later came out and sort of backtracked on what Senator Obama's plan was and whether the prime minister supported it, he told us that, in fact, the prime minister did want to see or would prefer that withdrawal occur around 2010, which would put us into the 16-month timeframe.
But again, once this article came out in the German magazine Der Spiegel, the government quickly sent out a notice that was also forwarded to us that backtracked from that and said no, there was no timetable discussed, that this was a misunderstanding and a mistranslation, if you will, and so the prime minister has now backed off of listing a date for any kind of withdrawal, saying it would depend on the situation on the ground.
SEABROOK: Soraya, thanks very much.
NELSON: You're welcome.
SEABROOK: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson from Baghdad.
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