President Bush Makes Surprise Visit to Baghdad
President Bush, who was reportedly holed up at Camp David with advisors planning our future strategy for Iraq, has instead made a surprise visit to Baghdad.
The trip comes as at least 70,000 forces — most of them Iraqi — prepare to deploy Wednesday on the streets of Baghdad in an effort to bring security to the Iraqi capital, according to the Iraqi Interior Ministry. The crackdown will include Iraqi police, police commandos, soldiers and emergency police as well as U.S.-led coalition forces, the ministry said. They will enforce checkpoints on Baghdad’s roads as well as a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew. There also will be a ban on carrying weapons. Coalition forces will offer air support if needed. The forces will wear new uniforms to distinguish them from insurgents who often wear fake outfits to carry out attacks. Raids will be stepped up against suspected insurgent hideouts. Officials said they expect clashes, especially in Sunni-dominated neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, al Qaeda in Iraq has named a successor to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the terrorist leader killed in a U.S. airstrike last week north of Baghdad, Islamist Web sites said Monday. The sites identified the militant group’s new leader as Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, which means “the immigrant,” indicating that he — like the Jordanian-born al-Zarqawi — is not Iraqi. CNN has not been able to confirm the claim’s authenticity.
President Bush said the new leader will be targeted. “I think the successor to [al-]Zarqawi is going to be on our list to bring to justice,” said Bush, who began a two-day strategy session on Iraq on Monday at Maryland’s Camp David.
This is smart symbolism. It makes sense to try to keep the momentum from the Zarqawi raid and completion of the Iraqi cabinet going. That this was timed with an announcement of a new push on the security front is all the better.
UPDATE (Greg Tinti): Breitbart/AP adds,
President Bush made a surprise visit to Iraq on Tuesday to meet newly named Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and discuss the next steps in the troubled, three-year-old war. It was a dramatic move by Bush, traveling to violence-rattled Baghdad less than a week after the death of terror chief Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in a bombing attack. The president was expected to be in Baghdad a little more than five hours. The trip was known only to a handful of aides and a small number of reporters sworn to secrecy because of obvious security threats for Bush and members of his entourage.
Landing at Baghdad airport, Bush transferred to a helicopter for a six-minute ride into the heavily fortified Green Zone. White House officials said the helicopter ride posed the greatest risk for the president.
It was Bush’s second trip to Baghdad in less than three years. He visited American troops at Thanksgiving, 2003, in a visit confined to the airport and limited to several hours. That trip also was kept secret.
Bush flew here secretly from talks at Camp David, Md., with senior national security advisers who gathered Monday to review how to bolster Iraq’s fledgling government and its capacity to handle the country’s defense.
In Baghdad, Bush was to meet with al-Maliki and senior members of his Cabinet. White House officials said the president wanted to meet face- to-face with the prime minister to size him up and assure him of U.S. support. He said the message that he wants to send to the Iraqi government is “we stand with you. What you’re doing is important.”
This is an incredibly smart move by the President which will help continue the momentum of positive news coming out of Iraq. It’s largely a symbolic gesture but nonetheless will be very important in conveying the commitment of the United States to the new Iraqi government. And if nothing else, this trip will send an important message to the Iraqi people: so long as George Bush is President, the United States will not abandon you.