On a trip shrouded in secrecy, President Barack Obama flew into Iraq on Tuesday for a brief inspection of a war he opposed as a candidate and now vows to end as commander in chief.
"There is still a lot of work to do here," he said.
Obama's motorcade rolled past troops standing at attention, en route to a meeting with several hundred men and women among the 139,000 American forces stationed in the country.
Obama was expected to award 10 medals of valor to U.S. troops, meet with generals and speak with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki by telephone. The president had originally been scheduled to meet with al-Maliki in person but officials said dusty conditions meant helicopters were unable to fly to Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone. MSNBC
Obama, restricted in travels in Baghdad by a dust-storm, was welcomed by Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, at Camp Victory near the airport. About 600 troops awaited the president at he Al Faw Palace at Camp Victory, where Obama met with Odierno and other officials.
The president said he was there "to say thanks to the troops. They are doing extraordinary work... They're just putting their heart and soul into this.''
The president emerged from a meeting with Odierno and National Security Adviser Gen. Jim Jones to a main, chandeliered room where troops were assembled for their visitor.
"Hail to the Chief'' was piped into the palace, with huge American flags draped for a backdrop.
"Thanks to all of you,'' Obama said. "I am so honored,'' and, as one called out, 'I love you,' the president replied: "I love you back.''
The president thanked the troops for their strain, their sacrifice and the controversy and difficulty that they had confronted, calling the transformation of Iraq to a fledgling democracy an "extraordinary achievement."
Acknowledging the repeated tours of duty that many have served, the president said, "Michelle and myself are with you every day'' and he pledged: "As long as I'm in the White House, you are going to get the support that you need...."
Army Spec. Joshua Tisdale, 24, of Pekin, Ill., making his second tour, has been at Camp Liberty for three months. "It makes me feel like he actually cares to where he'd come out here and talk to us.,'' Tisdale said of Obama's visit.
Sgt. First Class Floyd Robinson, 38, of Bessemer, Alabama, said: "Soldiers need to see their commander in chief... It gives everybody great pride knowing that he just took office, but he still stopped by to say a few words."
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