Bush in surprise Iraq visit

The US president is holding crucial talks with senior officials in Iraq.

    At the al-Asad air base Bush  met al-Maliki, at left, who is under fire from US politicians [AFP]
    Al Jazeera's Rob Reynold's in Washington DC said Bush has used Anbar as an example of how successful the "surge" strategy has been in the region, pointing to a drop in attacks by Sunni fighters.
     
    The drop in violence there has been attributed to Sunni Arab leaders joining forces with the US military to combat al-Qaeda fighters.
     
    Officials on hand
     
    Waiting for him at the base were Robert Gates, the defence secretary, and General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
     
    Admiral William Fallon, the commander of US forces in the Middle East, and General David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, were also at the base to meet the president.
     
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    The armies of Iraq

    Geoff Morrell, a Pentagon spokesman, said: "This is the last big gathering of the president's military advisers and the Iraqi leadership before the president decides on the way forward."
     
    Stephen Hadley, Bush's national security adviser, also joined Bush on the trip.

    Bush is on his way to Australia to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation forum summit.

    His arrival coincides with a British military pullback from its base in the centre of the southern Iraqi city of Basra.

    Petraeus report 

    Next week, Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador in Baghdad, are to testify before the US Congress.
     
    They will report on the impact of Bush's decision to send an additional 30,000 US soldiers to Iraq, a move that increased force numbers to 160,000.

    Their assessment of the conflict, along with a progress report the White House must hand legislators by September 15, is expected to determine the next phase of US military involvement in Iraq.

    Amid a rising US death toll, currently estimated at 3,700, and growing calls from the Democratic Party for a troop withdrawal, Bush is under pressure to decide whether to give al-Maliki more time to find a political solution to the crisis.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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