Bush Sees Progress in Quick Visit to Iraq President Bush makes a surprise visit to Baghdad to visit Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The president told the new leader and his Cabinet that the future of Iraq is in its citizens' hands, and that it's in the interest of the United States that the mission in Iraq succeeds.
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Bush Sees Progress in Quick Visit to Iraq

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Bush Sees Progress in Quick Visit to Iraq

Bush Sees Progress in Quick Visit to Iraq

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

He traveled more than 6,000 miles and stayed less than six hours. President Bush's trip to Baghdad today caught almost everyone by surprise, including the Iraqi Prime Minister, who reportedly got just a few minutes notice that the president was in the Green Zone. In addition to the political meetings, the president spoke to an audience of U.S. troops and he thanked them for their service and sacrifice.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: The mission that you're accomplishing here in Iraq will go down in the history books as an incredibly important moment in the history of freedom and peace. An incredibly important moment of doing our duty to secure our homeland.

NORRIS: Earlier, at a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his cabinet, Mr. Bush threw his full support behind the newly formed government.

President BUSH: I've come to not only look you in the eye, but I've also come to tell you that when America gives its word, it will keep its word. And it's in our interest that Iraq succeed. It's not only in the interest of the Iraqi people, it's in the interest of the American people and for people who love freedom. Iraq is a part of the war on terror.

SIEGEL: That's President Bush on his surprise visit to Baghdad earlier today, addressing Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki and his cabinet.

Joining us now is NPR's David Greene, who's traveling with the president and David, tell us more about what the president and the Iraqi prime minister had to say today.

DAVID GREENE reporting:

Well, the president came here to really try and prop up the Maliki government. That was a big part of the trip, the White House said. The White House believes that the Maliki government really has a small window to try and prove itself and show that it can begin assuming control of its country.

But the president also seemed to want to send a message that the U.S. is not going anywhere. And he told the Prime Minister after their meeting that when the U.S. makes a promise it keeps its word, and they're going to stay here. Maliki told the president that he's looking forward to a day, he hopes, when there will be no more foreign troops on his soil and when they'll be able to thank the United States and other countries for being here.

The two leaders were sitting at a long table inside the U.S. Embassy with little paper nameplates in front of them, even one for President Bush, and Maliki's cabinet was surrounding them. And then on the video conference was President Bush's cabinet back at Camp David, where he was supposed to be.

SIEGEL: Well, apart from Prime Minister al-Maliki's hopes for the day when there is greater security in Iraq, I gather it's still difficult there and that the president, I assume, couldn't leave the so-called Green Zone, the center of Baghdad.

Mr. GREENE: That's right. And that was one of the big questions for White House officials on the way over here on Air Force One. What does it say about the level of security and the threat in Baghdad if the president can't even get out of the Green Zone? And that's certainly one way to look at it.

They did say that the risks are very high. And the president landed, we did a very quick corkscrew landing into the airport and took a quick chopper ride, so security was very, very intense. But one point the White House wanted to make was that when the president came here over Thanksgiving in 2003, he stayed at the airport. Didn't even make it out of the airport. He was under darkness. So they're looking at this as progress, the fact that he was able to get out and actually come to the Green Zone.

SIEGEL: This trip was a pretty well kept secret, I gather, until yesterday, or until last night.

Mr. GREENE: It sure was. President Bush was supposed to be up at Camp David having the meeting with his cabinet and actually be present with his cabinet officials and many of them didn't even know the president was leaving. It was only Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Others expected the president to be showing up for breakfast this morning at Camp David and he wasn't there. Very few people knew about it. Maliki's government was surprised. It was unannounced to him and he evidently found out after the president was just landing or already here.

SIEGEL: Well, David, if you could sum up what the line is with the sentiment -or the phrase is that now describes the administration's view of the situation in Iraq or U.S. policy in Iraq. What is it? What are they now saying? What can we expect to hear in coming weeks?

Mr. GREENE: I think they're hoping to turn the last few weeks into some momentum. After a long period of violence and a lot of bloody images, a new government forming and then also the death of Zarqawi, I think, has given them hope. But it's restrained hope, because as they know and as we all know, periods of optimism for the administration have quickly turned into many more problems when the violence keeps going. We'll see where this goes.

SIEGEL: Okay, David. Thank you.

Mr. GREENE: My pleasure, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's David Greene, who's traveling with President Bush. He was talking to us from Baghdad earlier today.

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