Obama makes unannounced visit to Iraq

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

American President Barack Obama made an unannounced visit to Iraq today, The New York Times reported Tuesday. This is Obama's first visit to Iraq since he became president.

Barack Obama, 2009

Air Force One touched down at 4:42 p.m. local time (1:42 p.m. UTC, 9:42 EDT), amid heavy security at Baghdad International Airport.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters that the trip to Iraq was due to Iraq's proximity to Turkey — where Obama was finishing a week-long visit to Europe — and that American soldiers in Iraq deserved the attention and appreciation of their president.

"Our men and women who are in harm's way, either in Iraq or Afghanistan, deserve our utmost respect and appreciation," Gibbs told the New York Times. CNN reports that Iraq's proximity to Turkey was the reason behind choosing Iraq over Afghanistan.

Gibbs also said that Obama planned to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, but poor weather in Baghdad means that Obama will likely talk to the prime minister and Iraqi President Jalal Talibani by telephone.

American troops are slated to leave Iraq by August 2010, with The New York Times reporting that troop levels will continue to be high until Iraq's federal elections in December.

Obama told a group of university students in Turkey that despite his original opposition to the war in 2003, he realized that the troop withdrawal must be done carefully.

"I have a responsibility to make sure that as we bring troops out, that we do so in a careful enough way that we don't see a complete collapse into violence," Mr. Obama said, according to The New York Times. "So some people might say, wait, I thought you were opposed to the war, why don't you just get them all out right away? Well, just because I was opposed at the outset it doesn't mean that I don’t have now responsibilities to make sure that we do things in a responsible fashion."