Troops cheer when Obama says it's time for Iraqis to 'take responsibility'
Surprising many, President Barack Obama made an unannounced appearance in Iraq on Tuesday, where he is expected to meet with U.S. troops as well as Iraqi leaders.
MSNBC reported that Obama will be meeting with General Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in the country, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Iraqi President Iraqi Jalal Talabani. Obama was reportedly supposed to fly into central Baghdad for his meeting with Talibani but a sandstorm is expected to keep that from happening. Instead, he is expected to remain close to Camp Victory.
Troops cheered wildly for the president during his visit to Camp Victory but they applauded the loudest, as MSNBC reports, when Obama told them it was time for Iraqis to "take responsibility for their country" after America's commitment of six years and thousands of lives."
"You have given Iraq the opportunity to stand on its own as a democratic country," Obama said. "That is an extraordinary achievement."
The president also took time to sign a few autographs for the assembled military men and women, who included Vice President Joe Biden's son, Capt. Beau Biden.
First Lady Michelle Obama did not take part in the trip but flew back to Washington, DC from the couple's 8-day trip to Europe for the G-20 summit and a later visit to Turkey, according to MSNBC.
This is Obama's third visit to the country, but his first as president.
The Associated Press writes, "Obama flew into the country hours after a car bomb exploded in a Shiite neighborhood of the capital city, a deadly reminder of the violence that has claimed the lives at least 4,266 members of the U.S. military since March 2003."
Secrecy surrounding the trip to Iraq, which is still considered a war-zone, was high with many top staffers reportedly not even being aware of the trip. Daily schedule briefings distributed to the press included no mention of the visit but only said that after departing Istanbul, Turkey, Obama would be flying back to DC.
As The New York Times reports, the president landed at Baghdad International Airport in the afternoon, which military officials shut down ahead of his visit. All roads into the capital were were also cleared.
According to the Associated Press, "The president flew into Baghdad, and was spending his day at Camp Victory, where he arranged to speak to some of the 140,000 U.S. troops stationed in the country. He was awarding medals to several. Plans to travel to the Green Zone - the heavily fortified U.S. nerve center in Baghdad - were scrapped because of bad weather."
Obama's visit comes in the wake of his February announcement that several tens of thousands of U.S. troops would likely remain in Iraq past the U.S. withdrawal date of August 2010.
As a result of the 2007 troop surge and a military strategy of recruiting former Sunni insurgents to fight against Al-Qaeda, Iraq has seen its violence levels drop. However, noted MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell, the country is still not considered safe enough for Obama to be able to leave Camp Victory and travel by motorcade out of the Green Zone into central Baghdad.
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