Bush Visits Iraq

Great move by the President to visit Anbar.


BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- President Bush greeted his war commanders with salutes Monday during a surprise visit to a U.S. air base in Iraq's Anbar province.

Air Force One touched down at Al Asad Air Base at 3:43 p.m. (7:43 a.m. EDT) under a blazing sun.

The White House said the base was chosen because of the "remarkable turnaround" in the mostly Sunni region west of Baghdad.

Bush plans to eat dinner with U.S. troops and to meet with top military commanders, the U.S. ambassador, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and provincial tribal leaders.

Bush has hailed Anbar as a success, citing the U.S. military's alliance with tribal leaders in fighting al Qaeda in Iraq.

Marine commanders on the ground told Bush that "morale is high," despite long troop rotations.

The president was expected to deliver televised remarks from the base at about 12:30 ET.

During Bush's previous two visits to Iraq he visited Baghdad, but this trip will remain confined to the heavily fortified air base west of the capital for about six hours.

The president will speak to about 750 troops for about 10 or 15 minutes said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, before he continues on to Australia.

Al Asad Air Base dates to the 1970s, when it was used by Iraqi forces loyal to Saddam Hussein. It houses about 10,000 U.S. troops, mostly Marines. The facility was captured in April 2003 by Australian special forces.

Measuring about 17 miles in circumference, the base is located not far from the Euphrates River between Baghdad and the Syrian border, where the Bush administration has said many foreign fighters have crossed into Iraq.

The president stopped in Iraq en route to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Sydney, Australia, and ahead of a September 15 briefing in Washington by top U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker.

They're to offer an assessment to Congress on the increase of about 30,000 U.S. troops in Iraq that began this year.

Bush is accompanied on the Iraq visit by Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, the newly appointed White House official responsible for coordinating Iraq issues.

The president was spirited out of the White House late Sunday and driven to Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland.

Instead of the usual presidential motorcade, only one other car accompanied Bush's limousine from the executive mansion to Andrews in an effort to maintain the subterfuge.

Sixteen hours before he was scheduled to leave for the Asia summit, Bush boarded Air Force One as it sat in a hanger and the aircraft departed after dark.

White House press secretary Tony Snow said a false schedule released for the news media on Monday was part of the security plan for the trip.

Also joining Bush on the Iraq visit are U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, national security adviser Stephen Hadley, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Peter Pace, a senior White House official said.

Bush previously visited Iraq in June 2006. In 2003, Bush made a surprise Thanksgiving Day visit to U.S. forces serving in Iraq.

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