Bush Impressed With Iraqi Government Officials During Baghdad Trip

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 13, 2006 - On a surprise visit to Baghdad today, President Bush told Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki he is impressed with Maliki's choices for top Iraqi Cabinet officials.

"It is an impressive group of men and women," Bush said to the prime minister during a press conference after meeting members of Maliki's Cabinet. Maliki was seated to the president's left, with U.S Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad on the right, and Iraqi officials on either side of them.

"If given the right help, I'm convinced you'll succeed -- and so will the world," the president continued.

Maliki had announced his choices for defense and interior ministers and his top national security adviser June 7, a day after al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in Iraq during a U.S. air strike.

The schedule had called for Bush, his national security team and other U.S. officials to meet with Iraqi leaders via videoteleconference today from Camp David, Md. Instead, he made a surprise trip overnight to Iraq to meet today with the country's senior officials and to discuss the way ahead.

Senior U.S. and Iraqi officials discussed governmental, security, economic and reconstruction strategies at the meeting, which included senior U.S. officials back at Camp David via videoteleconference.

Bush told Maliki that he wanted to meet with him personally to underscore America's commitment to the success of a democratic Iraq.

"When America gives its word, it will keep its word," Bush said. He added that Iraq's success is in the interests of "people who love freedom."

Iraq is a central front on the war on terror, the president said.

"When Iraq succeeds in having a government of and by and for the people of Iraq, you will have dealt a serious blow to those who have a vision of darkness, who don't believe in liberty, who are willing to kill the innocent in order to achieve a political objective," he added.

Bush told Maliki that Iraq's future hinges on the capability of its new government.

"The decisions you and your Cabinet make will be determinate as to whether or not a country succeeds that can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself. I'm impressed by the Cabinet that you've assembled," Bush said to Maliki.

"You've assembled people from all parts of your country, representing different religions and different histories and traditions, and yet, the Cabinet here represents the entire Iraqi people."

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