Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Obama visits Iraq

BAGHDAD - US PRESIDENT Barack Obama arrived in Iraq on Tuesday on his first visit since taking office in three months ago, as the war-torn country wrestles with a new upturn in deadly attacks.

Mr Obama flew into Baghdad from Turkey on Air Force One on the latest leg of a week-long tour through Europe and the Middle East and was immediately rushed off to meet General Ray Odierno, the top US army commander in Iraq.

He was expected to present medals to American soldiers during the unexpected visit as well as hold telephone talks with his Iraqi counterpart Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Mr Obama, who opposed the 2003 invasion ordered by his predecessor George W. Bush, has used his debut overseas tour to reach out to the Islamic world and attempt to restore America's battered image abroad.

In February Mr Obama announced a new strategy that will see most combat troops withdraw from Iraq by August 2010, although a force of up to 50,000 will remain until the end of the following year.

A military accord signed last November between Baghdad and Washington requires all US troops to leave the country by the end of 2011.

Ending the war which sparked a deadly insurgency that cost thousands of lives would mark a new era of US diplomacy in the Middle East, Mr Obama has said, that would include 'principled and sustained engagement' with Iraq's neighbours Iran and Syria.

Mr Bush was the last US president to visit Iraq in a trip that was overshadowed by an Iraqi journalist who hurled his shoes at him to protest the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam from power. -- AFP

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