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Obama Makes Surprise Iraq Stop


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris. President Obama has wrapped up a weeklong trip through Europe and Turkey with an unannounced visit to American troops in Baghdad. This is Mr. Obama's third trip to Iraq, but his first as commander-in-chief. He met with American servicemen and women on a base outside Baghdad, but poor weather prevented the president from travelling into the Iraqi capital. We're joined now by NPR's Quil Lawrence in Baghdad.

Quil, who did Mr. Obama manage to meet on this trip?

QUIL LAWRENCE: He first met with US troops and with commanders of US military forces in Iraq. And at beginning, it looked like he wasn't going to be able to see the actual leaders of Iraq, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Because of this overcast, low visibility, the helicopter flights into Baghdad were cancelled. But in the end, the prime minister and president of Iraq actually got out to the base to meet with him.

NORRIS: And as we said, this was a surprise visit. What message did he carry to the troops?

LAWRENCE: We can listen, actually, to a short excerpt of what he said to the troops.

BARACK OBAMA: It is time for us to transition to the Iraqis. They...


OBAMA: They need to take responsibility for their country and for their sovereignty.


OBAMA: And in order for them to do that, they've got to make political accommodations. They're going to have to decide that they want to resolve their differences through constitutional means and legal means.

NORRIS: Quil, when we listen to the response that Mr. Obama got, should we assume that they're happy with what they're hearing?

LAWRENCE: Absolutely. This was a very warm reception. It's not like normal applause in the military. Depending on whether they're Marines or Army, they'll give either an ooh-wah or the woo sound that you heard there. So this was definitely a very warm welcome for that message, that he's committed to bringing the majority of US troops home by the middle of next year. He also stressed, however, that there's a lot of political work that needs to be done here on the ground in Iraq, that the United States to remain - needs to remain a strong partner with Iraq to make sure that they can get to the point where American troops will be able to come home.

NORRIS: There's been a sudden uptick in violence this week in Iraq. How does that square with President Obama's pledge to start bringing those troops home?

LAWRENCE: Well, the commander of US forces in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, assured the president that despite the car bombs over the past couple of days, these are still some of the lowest levels of violence we've seen in several years. But this violence was clearly sectarian, and that's a concern that we might be returning to the bad old days of 2006, 7 and 8, where thousands were killed in sectarian violence.

NORRIS: And how have Iraqis reacted to the first visit of the new American president?

LAWRENCE: Well, most Iraqis, of course, when we went out to ask, didn't know he was here. It was a secret, unannounced visit. They were generally positive. Some referred to his family background, his Muslim family background as something that gave them a positive impression. Many others said that they weren't really sure that he can do much to solve some of the problems he's arrived into office with. And a few seemed a bit upset that President Obama had come to Iraq and just stayed out on a big military base outside Baghdad where the only Iraqis who get to see him were the president and the prime minister.

NORRIS: Thank you, Quil.

LAWRENCE: Thank you.

NORRIS: That's NPR's Baghdad bureau chief, Quil Lawrence. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Quil Lawrence is a New York-based correspondent for NPR News, covering veterans' issues nationwide. He won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his coverage of American veterans and a Gracie Award for coverage of female combat veterans. In 2019 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America honored Quil with its IAVA Salutes Award for Leadership in Journalism.