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Obama pays surprise visit to Iraq
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13:36, April 08, 2009

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U.S. President Barack Obama paid a four-hour surprise visit to Iraq on Tuesday, during which he told the U.S. troops to make sure Iraq is stable before their withdrawal and said the Iraqis need to take responsibility for their own country.

During his short visit to Iraq, his first since he took office three months ago, Obama met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and inspected Camp Victory, the U.S. military base on the outskirts of Baghdad.

He told his troops in the military base that the next 18 months of their mission in the war-torn country would be "critical," urging the troops to bear responsibilities to make sure Iraq is stable before the withdrawal.

In February, Obama announced a new strategy that will put an end to U.S. combat operations in Iraq by August next year. Obama also pledged he would stick to a timetable for all American troops to be out of the country by the end of 2011.

U.S. President Barack Obama visits Camp Victory in Baghdad, April 7, 2009

Obama told some 600 cheering U.S. troops at the base that the American forces had "performed brilliantly ... under enormous strain."

U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki at Camp Victory in Baghdad, April 7, 2009

Meanwhile, he also called on Iraqis to take responsibility for the country of their own.

"It is time for us to transfer (control) to the Iraqis...They need to take responsibility for their country," Obama said.

U.S. President Barack Obama (L) talks to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani during a meeting in Baghdad April 7, 2009

Obama was received at the Baghdad airport by top U.S. troops commander in Iraq Gen. Ray Odierno before immediately heading for Camp Victory. Obama discussed with him the planned draw down of troops and general elections due at the end of 2009.

Obama then met Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki at the base and promised he would pull American troops out of the country as planned. Obama cancelled his plan to fly with a helicopter to the heavily fortified Green Zone in central Baghdad.

"We are strongly committed to an Iraq that is sovereign, stable and self-reliant," he said, standing side by side with the Iraqi leader.

Al-Maliki, for his part, told reporters that "we assured the president that all the progress that has been made in the security area will continue."

Earlier, Obama said significant progress has been made in Iraq but there is still a lot of work to do.

Obama's visit comes amid a new wave of car bombings in the war-torn country as the U.S. military is starting to phase out troops.

A string of car bombings in mainly Shiite districts of Baghdad on Monday killed at least 32 people and wounded some 129 others. The U.S. military said the attacks appeared to be coordinated by Al-Qaida.

Earlier in the day, the toll from a car bombing in Baghdad's northern district rose to eight killed and 14 people wounded.

Obama arrived in Baghdad after an eight-day international trip in which he traveled to Britain, France, Germany, the Czech Republic and Turkey. The tour has been closely watched in light of signs of a new page in U.S. relationships abroad after eight years of the administration of George W. Bush.

Before he left Turkey, the president said, "I am personally committed to a new chapter of American engagement. We can't afford to talk past one another, to focus only on our differences."


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