WASHINGTON, June 13, 2006 - President Bush arrived in Baghdad today on a surprise visit to new Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Bush had been meeting at Camp David, Md., with his national security team to discuss the way forward in Iraq. He was to have met with Maliki and other Iraqi leaders via teleconference today, but traveled to Baghdad in secret overnight.
He shook hands with a surprised looking Maliki in front of television cameras at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad this evening local time.
Speaking at Camp David yesterday evening, Bush said the United States is resolved to assist the new democratic Iraqi government, the performance of which will ultimately determine victory or defeat in Iraq.
"We all agree that we have got to continue to help this new government move forward," Bush told reporters after a day of meetings with senior advisers including Vice President Richard B. Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Gen. Peter Pace.
"Success in Iraq will depend upon the capacity of the new government to provide for its people. We recognize that," Bush said.
The senior-level meetings and Bush's surprise trip come on the heels of two major successes in Iraq. On June 7, the Iraqi government announced the long-awaited appointment of its defense and interior ministers and the country's head of national security, just a day after al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed near Baqubah during an attack by U.S. military aircraft.
Bush yesterday said he was encouraged by progress in the formation of the new Iraqi government, noting the United States recognizes its responsibility to help that new government.
Asked by reporters about Zarqawi's apparent successor, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, Bush replied: "I think the successor to Zarqawi is going to be on our list to bring to justice."
Reporters also quizzed the president on how the U.S. and the Iraqi government can defeat an insurgency that continues to conduct deadly attacks. Establishing democracy in Iraq, Bush said, is a difficult and dangerous endeavor that's worth the cost.
The insurgents "have no positive philosophy," the president said. "All they can do is kill and hope that the government splits up or that the American people lose their will."
The Iraqis can help themselves by establishing a strong, fair and capable new government, Bush said.
"The best way to win this war against an insurgency is to stand up a unity government which is capable of defending itself, but also providing tangible benefits to the people," Bush said. Iraq is a rich country, he said, with plentiful resources to share among all of its citizens.
But Iraqis must decide to become a unified people in order to combat terror, defeat the insurgency and live in peace, Bush said. "And the United States and our coalition will help them realize their ambitions if they choose to live in peace and hope, which we believe they will."