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    Bush Makes Surprise Visit to Baghdad in Show of Support for New Government

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    President Bush is in Iraq on a surprise visit meant to show his support for the new government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

    President Bush was to have spoken with Prime Minister Maliki by videoconference Tuesday. Instead, he flew to Baghdad for face-to-face talks on the future of Iraq and U.S. involvement there.

    President Bush told the prime minister that Iraq is a central front in the fight against terrorism and the success of his new government will deal what Mr. Bush called a "serious blow to those who have a vision of darkness."

    "I've come to not only look you in the eye, I've also come to tell you that when America gives its word, it will keep its word," he said. "It is in our interest that Iraq succeeds. It is not only in the interest of the Iraqi people, it is in the interest of the American people and for people who love freedom."

    White House counselor Dan Bartlett says this is a trip the president had planned for some time to show his support for the new Iraqi government. With that Cabinet complete, the surprise five-hour visit is a chance for President Bush to show he is seizing the opportunity presented by Iraq's new leaders.

    Mr. Bush says he is impressed by the diversity of Mr. Maliki's cabinet and is convinced they will succeed given the right help.

    "I appreciate that you recognize the fact that the future of your country is in your hands," the president said. "The decisions you and your cabinet make will determine whether or not a country succeeds that can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself."

    Following the scheduled video conference with U.S. officials still in America, President Bush says they discussed strategies to improve security, help the economy, and rebuild Iraq.

    Prime Minister Maliki says he is committed to a pluralistic government capable of bridging Iraq's sectarian divide.

    The prime minister says he is determined to succeed and defeat terrorism. He says Iraq will stay united and strong. Mr. Maliki expressed hope that coalition forces in the country would soon be able to return home but offered no timetable for that withdrawal.

    The continuing war in Iraq has dragged down President Bush's public approval ratings. White House officials anticipate a slight rise in those ratings following last week's killing of terrorist leader Abu Musasb al-Zarqawi. But they recognize those gains will be short lived without improved security and brighter prospects for the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops.

    In Baghdad, President Bush was also expected to meet with President Jalal Talibani and speaker of parliament Mahmoud al-Mashhadani as well as other Iraqi politicians and some of the more than 130,000 U.S. forces fighting there.

     

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