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Bush In Surprise Iraq Visit To Push Case For 'Surge'

September 3, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush has made a surprise visit to Iraq in an apparent bid to boost support for his military strategy there.

With a showdown nearing with Congress over whether his surge of 30,000 more troops to Iraq is working, Bush secretly flew 11 hours to Iraq.

He arrived at Al-Asad Air Base, in a remote part of western Al-Anbar Governorate. Bypassing the capital was seen as a sign of impatience with the political paralysis in Baghdad.

Bush was accompanied by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and met up with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and top military officials. It was Bush’s first visit to Iraq since June 2006.

Bush and his national security team are due to meet with embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and other top officials, as well as tribal sheikhs who have given the administration hope of making a turnaround in fighting Al-Qaeda and the Sunni Arab insurgency.

Key Reports Due

The talks come just days before General David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad Ryan Crocker testify before the U.S. Congress on whether Bush’s troops surge has succeeded in stabilizing Iraq. Both Petraeus and Crocker were due to take part in today’s meetings.

Their assessment as well as a progress report that the White House must deliver to Congress by September 15 is likely to help determine the next phase of the war.

With Democrats calling for a U.S. withdrawal and a rising U.S. death toll, Bush is keen on making a case that progress is being made, especially on security in Al-Anbar.

However, Washington cannot sustain the troop buildup indefinitely. And with the lack of political progress toward ending the fighting, Bush has been hard-pressed at home to make his case.

So his trip today is aimed at just that: to help persuade a skeptical U.S. public and Congress that now is not the time to pull out of Iraq.

Bush stopped in Iraq ahead of a visit to Australia for an economic summit with Asia-Pacific leaders. The trip was a closely held secret for obvious security reasons, and he left a day earlier from Washington than had been officially scheduled.

(with AP, AFP)

Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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