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President Makes Surprise Visit to Iraq for Meetings

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq, Sept. 3, 2007 – President Bush surprised servicemembers with a visit to this base in Iraq’s Anbar province today. 

The unmistakable blue and white coloring of Air Force One swooped in over the base and landed. Marines guarding the area where the day's meeting would be held looked and said, "This meeting just got a whole lot more important." The servicemembers based here only knew about the Secdef and Chairman coming in.

As the plane unloaded, dust devils stirred the air. The temperature in pegged at 115. Servicemembers all over the base are sweltering in full battle rattle.

The president will meet with senior U.S. military and civilian leaders and Iraqi leaders in anticipation of the Iraq assessment that will be delivered to Congress September 10, Defense Department officials said.

Bush will meet with Army Gen. David Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Peter Pace and U.S. Central Command chief Navy Adm. William Fallon. The president wants to discuss the way forward with his military leaders and inform the Iraqi leaders of American thinking as a result of the security success of the surge.

Following the meeting with U.S. leaders, the president will hold a larger meeting including the American leaders and Iraqi President Jalal Talibani, Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and the Iraqi deputy prime ministers.

Fourteen local sheikhs will join the meeting to discuss the progress of the “Anbar Awakening.” The province was an al Qaeda hotbed with the terrorist group actually declaring Ramadi – the provincial capital – the capital of an al-Qaeda dominated Iraq. The sheikhs and other tribal leaders of this Sunni province rejected al-Qaeda and are cooperating with coalition forces, the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi government. Violence in this once-volatile province has dropped significantly.

Following the meetings, Bush and the Defense leaders will hold a Town Hall meeting with 700 servicemembers at this sprawling base.

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