A section of the Arab media termed it a stunt which showed his determination to win both the war in Iraq and re-election next year.

 

In Iraq itself, many people termed it a cowardly swift stopover for fear of resistance fighters. Some said they would have preferred Bush to have had the courage to visit the country more openly and meet ordinary people.

 

In Baghdad’s Azhamiyah area, men and women said Bush was not welcome in their war-shattered country and even less so in their neighbourhood.

 

'Coward'

 

“Bush isn't welcome here. Why do you think he came at night and for just two hours?" asked Haj Taleb, a 70-year-old man.

 

"He should have announced his first visit here but he's a coward, he's afraid," Taleb said of the US president who paid a short visit on Thursday night under the tightest security to meet 600 of his troops stationed at Baghdad's international airport on the occasion of the American Thanksgiving holiday.

 

Bush should have met common
Iraqis too, say people

"What good did his visit bring us? We want to see him and his troops leave Iraq at once. We want Saddam back!" piped in Hilal Muhayed, 16, as his teenage friends nodded in approval.

  

"We have no reason to rejoice, we're far worse off with his occupation. We have no electricity, no gas. Let him come here and we'll take care of him," warned one of Hilal's friends, declining to identify himself.

  

In the Kazhamiyah neighbourhood, residents complained that the occupation forces had failed to bring back security. But they insisted they were thankful to Bush for ridding them of Saddam Hussein.

 

Media reaction

 

Shuruh, a 30-year-old woman said,  "He needs to know how we live, without any security. He needs to understand that freedom without security doesn't mean much to us."

 

The media too treated the visit with disdain. "Bush's secret visit to Baghdad opens presidential election season," said the Beirut-based Al-Mustaqbal newspaper, owned by Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

 

"I came, I saw nothing, but I will conquer"

An-Nahar newspaper,
Beirut

"Bush suddenly 'infiltrates' into Baghdad to lift spirits and please voters," ahead of the November 2004 presidential polls in the US, said Asharq, another Lebanese newspaper.

  

A front-page editorial in the leading Lebanese An-Nahar newspaper said Bush would have liked to repeat the words of Roman emperor Julius Caesar, but said the US president could not repeat the phrase: "I came, I saw, I conquered."

  

The editorial was headlined: "I came, I saw nothing, but I will conquer."

 

Iran reaction

 

In the Iranian capital Tehran, the country’s Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi said Bush's visit to Baghdad showed that Washington was afraid of the Iraqi people.

  

"The US president's sudden visit to Iraq was a sign of the US fear of the Iraqi people," said Kharazi, whose country opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq.