Bush's parents along with some of his Secret Service protectors were unaware of his plans, officials said.
The White House had taken such pains to keep his plans concealed that a spokeswoman had provided lavish details of the Thanksgiving feast he was supposed to be having in Crawford, Texas, from the traditional turkey to the pumpkin pie.
And even as Bush fired up surprised troops in Baghdad, an official who knew of the trip nonetheless told sleepy-eyed reporters in Crawford that he was placing telephone calls to US soldiers around the world from his Prairie Chapel ranch.
Barely an hour later, stunned journalists learned that the
president, and a handful of their media colleagues, as well as top White House aides, had sneaked away to the Iraqi capital.
Bush left Waco, Texas, for Washington, where he switched planes, and then departed shortly after midnight to make the first visit to Baghdad by a US president.
Bush serves Thanksgiving turkey
dinner to US troops
White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said on Thursday she did not know of the trip when she described the Thanksgiving menu a day earlier, but was unapologetic about misleading the media.
"There were obviously very strict security issues," she told
reporters, adding that only "a handful" of White House officials knew, just "people who needed to know".
Bush brought White House Chief of Staff Andy Card, national
security adviser Condoleezza Rice, deputy White House Chief of Staff Joe Hagin, and communications director Dan Bartlett, she said.
The president's personal aide, his doctor, the official White
House photographer, and secret service agents accompanied him, she said.
He was due back in Crawford around dawn on Friday, and was to enjoy his Thanksgiving feast one day late, the spokeswoman said.
The departure was so secretive that reporters covering Bush in Crawford for several major news organisations did not know of the trip, even though they had correspondents on the trip.
Reporters invited along were forbidden to inform their superiors in any way except in person, said Buchan.