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Obama Visits Iraq to Discuss Challenges, Successes


Presumptive U.S. Democratic Party presidential nominee Barack Obama is in Baghdad, his first visit to Iraq since 2006. The visit is considered part of Senator Obama's attempts to boost his foreign policy credentials before the presidential election in November. VOA's Suzanne Presto reports from the northern city of Irbil.

Senator Barack Obama's visit to Iraq gives the Illinois senator a chance to see first-hand the security conditions in the country. It also gives him an opportunity to assess possibilities for the U.S. role in Iraq beyond 2008 - a central campaign issue in the U.S. presidential election.

Obama held separate meetings with Iraq's President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki.

None of the men made public comments after the talks. Iraqi media reports say the discussions focused on security and economic developments, including challenges and successes.

Earlier in the day, Obama visited the southern city of Basra where he met with troops and military officials.

Speaking in Washington, U.S. Department of Defense spokesman Bryan Whitman said he believed officials would give Obama what they have given other official visitors: a first-hand view of developments in the country.

"What I would expect that he would hear would be the same things that others have heard, " Whitman said, "and that is a perspective from the commanders on the ground with respect to what they are seeing, the challenges that they are facing, the successes that they are having and the areas that still need more work."

Obama opposes the war in Iraq. He has repeatedly vowed to end the war if he is elected president.

Earlier this month, Obama said if he is elected, he would like to withdraw U.S. troops at a pace of one-to-two brigades per month, meaning combat troops would be out in 16 months.

The German weekly Der Speigel reported Iraq's prime minister endorsed that plan, but after those comments ignited a firestorm of controversy Iraqi spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the prime minister's comments were mistranslated and misconstrued. But after Mr. Maliki and Obama met, Dabbagh said he hopes U.S. combat forces could be out of Iraq by 2010.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain says troop draw-downs must be determined by the military and political situation. McCain says U.S. troops could be in Iraq in some capacity for many years to come.

Obama is traveling with two other U.S. senators. They spent the first two days of this overseas tour in Afghanistan, followed by a stop in Kuwait.

Obama is also expected to visit Israel, Jordan and Europe this week.
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