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April 7, 2009

Obama visits Iraq

POLITICS - United States President Barack Obama flew into Iraq today for a brief look at a war he opposed as a candidate and now vows to end as commander in chief. It was Obama's third trip to Iraq, but his first as president.

Obama flew into the country hours after a car bomb exploded in a Shiite neighbourhood of the capital city, a deadly reminder of the violence that has claimed the lives at least 4,266 members of the United States military and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis since March 2003.

Obama's visit came at the conclusion of a long overseas 8-day trip that included economic and NATO summits in Europe and two days in Turkey. Shortly before leaving Turkey, Obama talked about Iraq as an example of the change he seeks in policies inherited from former president George W. Bush.

"Moving the ship of state takes time," Obama told a group of students in Istanbul. He noted his long-standing opposition to the war, yet said, "now that we're there," the U.S. troop withdrawal has to be done "in a careful enough way that we don't see a collapse into violence."

Violence in Iraq has actually dropped recently, down to approx. half of what it was 4 years ago at the height of Iraqi civil war. U.S. troop casualties are also down sharply from the war's height, despite constant reminders of violence. Yesterday a half-dozen bombs rocked Shiite neighbourhoods, killing 37 people, a reminder that Sunni and Shiite sects are still in a civil war.

In office only 11 weeks, Obama has already announced plans to withdraw most U.S. combat troops on a 19-month timetable (and fulfilling his campaign promise). As many as 50,000 troops are expected to remain in the country at the end of the 19 months to perform counterterrorism duties, and the USA will keeping military bases in Iraq for future decades, just like they maintain troops and training camps in South Korea, Germany and Japan.

Obama is also appealing with limited success for additional assistance in Afghanistan, a war he has vowed to finish properly with the dissolution of Al-qaeda.

The president flew into Baghdad, and was spending his day at Camp Victory, where he arranged to speak to some of the 140,000 U.S. troops stationed in the country. Obama was cheered for by the ecstatic troops and awarded medals to several troops.

In related news, new video of the North Korean missile launch has been released. See North Korea launches Missile over Japan.



Today South Korean news agencies criticized Obama for not taking North Korea's nuclear/missile capabilities more seriously, saying the Obama administration should be more worried about North Korea than Iran. Iran has purchased missile technology from both China and Russia in recent years and has been seeking to expand its nuclear arsenal.

Obama has promised a stern response to both North Korea's recent missile launch and Iran's continued defiance and uranium enrichment program.

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