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Why did Bush visit Iraq? His third visit since the invasion

September 25, 2007

Posted By Ahmed Abdullah

The unannounced trip, in which the U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staffs accompanied the American president, was surrounded with speculations, with many reasons being reported about his visit. 

Of course it was no coincidence that the visit came a couple of weeks ahead of the due date of the Iraq assessment report that should be presented before the Congress by Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander of U.S. occupation forces in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the American ambassador to Baghdad.

Even though President Bush didn’t meet reporters during his visit, he held talks with both the General and the top commander in Iraq, after which he said: “They tell me that if the kind of success we are now seeing here continues, it will be possible to maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces.”

According to the New York Times, the President then urged members of both parties in Congress -- who call for the withdrawal of U.S. occupation forces from Iraq -- to listen to what he and his generals have to say instead of jumping to conclusions. 

It has also been reported that the visit, denounced by some news agencies as a photo opportunity, was an attempt by the president to divert the attention of the Congress, where a series of hearings on the administration’s Iraq strategy were planned to take place.

The course of Bush’s visit, in which he visited American military bases, also raised many eyebrows. The American president met Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri all-Maliki at the bastion of Saddam Hussein’s power, Anbar Province. 

Going to this dangerous area was carefully thought by the American president. Because Anbar is populated with around 95% of Sunni Muslims, Bush wanted to convey the message that Sunnis and Shias should cooperate to curb violence; something that is not happening in Iraq. 

A report recently issued by the National Intelligence Estimate stated that if al-Maliki was unable to support the country’s Sunnis, he might not able keep his post. The split between Sunnis and Shias wouldn’t only affect Maliki, but his already-shaken government, according to U.S. intelligence officials.

One correspondent says the fact that President Bush was able to walk freely and with confidence around his troops in a once-not-so-friendly province (Anbar) would reassure his soldiers in Iraq. It was obvious that Bush wanted to support his troops amid growing calls to withdraw occupation forces from the war-torn country. More than two thirds of people around the world think American-led forces should pull out of Iraq within a year, according to a poll recently published by the BBC's international service. 

However, Bush reiterated that any reduction in American troops would not be designed to appease politicians in Washington. “When we begin to draw down troops from Iraq, it will be from a position of strength and success, not from a position of fear and failure. Those decisions will be based on a calm assessment by our military commanders based on conditions on the ground” and not “nervous reactions by Washington politicians or poll results in the media”, President Bush said according to the New York Times.

The announcement left little hope of bringing home the 30,000 U.S. soldiers who were sent to Iraq earlier this year under the president’s “surge” strategy. 

Although Bush did his best during his visit to show that the surge is working, Iraq’s security isn’t getting any better. This leaves everyone wondering if the president’s visit achieved any of its intended purposes.

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