“There is still a lot of work to do here,” US President Barack Obama declared in Baghdad.
He could have been talking about every stop of his jam-packed, eight-day, six-country overseas trip.
In London, Obama joined other world leaders in trying to tackle the spiraling global economic crisis. In France, he sought help from NATO allies in dealing with the deteriorating war in Afghanistan. In the Czech Republic, he pledged to end the threat of nuclear weapons. In Turkey, he sought to start repairing the US’ dismal standing in the Muslim world. And in Iraq, he pushed for Iraqis to “take responsibility for their own country.”
The president returned to Washington in the early hours yesterday morning, bringing his lengthy debut on the world stage — including his first stop in a war zone as commander in chief — to a close.
Obama flew unannounced into Iraq, where he told US troops and Iraqi officials alike on Tuesday that it was time to phase out the US’ combat role in a conflict he opposed as a candidate and has vowed to end as commander in chief.
Iraqis “need to take responsibility for their own country,” Obama told hundreds of cheering soldiers gathered in an ornate, marble palace near late Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s former seat of power.
“You have given Iraq the opportunity to stand on its own as a democratic country. That is an extraordinary achievement,” he told the troops, saluting their efforts during six years of US fighting and losses.
“We love you,” someone yelled from the crowd of photo-snapping men and women in uniform.
“I love you back,” the president responded, repeating a sequence that played out at hundreds of campaign stops on his successful run for the White House last year.
Obama met top US commanders as well as senior Iraqi leaders on a visit of a little more than four hours that was confined to Camp Victory, the largest US military base in a war that began in 2003 and has cost the lives of 4,265 members of the US military. Many thousands more Iraqis have perished.
A helicopter flight to the heavily fortified Green Zone a few miles distant was scrapped, but White House aides attributed the change in travel plans to poor weather rather than security concerns.
After a session with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Obama said he had “strongly encouraged” Iraqis to take political steps that would unite political factions, including integrating minority Sunnis into the government and security forces.
Al-Maliki told reporters: “We assured the president that all the progress that has been made in the security area will continue.”
Obama flew from Turkey, the next-to-last stop on an eight-day itinerary that also included Britain, France, Germany and the Czech Republic.
Aides said Obama chose to visit Iraq rather than Afghanistan, where US troops are also in combat, in part because it was close to Turkey and in part because of upcoming Iraqi elections.
Obama announced plans in February to withdraw US troops from Iraq on a 19-month timetable, although a force as large as 50,000 could remain at the end of that period to provide counterterrorism duties.