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Bush Makes Surprise Visit to Baghdad

  • Scott Stearns

President Bush is in Iraq on a surprise visit meant to show his support for the new government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

President Bush was to have spoken with Prime Minister Maliki by video conference. Instead, he flew to Baghdad for face-to-face talks on the future of Iraq and U.S. involvement there.

Air Force One landed at Baghdad International Airport on a strip away from the main terminal. A seven-minute helicopter ride took the president to the Green Zone and Saddam Hussein's Republican Palace, which is now part of the U.S. Embassy compound.

"Good to see you!" a surprised Prime Minister Maliki said. "Thanks for having me," President Bush responded with a hearty handshake.

White House counselor Dan Bartlett says this is a trip the president had planned for some time to show his support for the new Iraqi government. With that Cabinet complete, the surprise five-hour visit is a chance for President Bush to show he is seizing the opportunity presented by a new government.

The continuing war in Iraq has dragged down the president's public approval ratings. White House officials expect a slight rise in his approval rating, following last week's killing of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, but recognize those gains will be short lived without improved security and brighter prospects for the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops.

In Baghdad, President Bush joined U.S. and Iraqi officials for their scheduled video conference. He was also expected to meet with President Jalal Talibani and speaker of parliament Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, as well as Iraqi politicians and some of the more than 130,000 U.S. troops fighting there.

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