Bush Defends Iraq War During a Farewell Visit

By Sudarsan Raghavan and Dan Eggen
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, December 14, 2008; 2:29 PM

BAGHDAD, Dec. 14 -- Arriving in Baghdad today for a farewell visit, President Bush staunchly defended a war that has taken far more time, money and lives than anticipated, saying the conflict "has not been easy" but was necessary for U.S. security, Iraqi stability and "world peace."

But during a press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Bush received a taste of the immense resentment many Iraqis feel toward toward his policies: an Iraqi journalist took off his shoes and hurled both of them at Bush, one after the other. The incident lent an air of chaos and farce to a trip intended to highlight improving security conditions in the war-torn country.

"This is the end!" the man, identified as Muntadar al-Zaidi, a reporter with the Cairo-based network Al Baghdadia Television, yelled as he threw the first shoe at Bush. The president narrowly missed being hit, according to on-scene reports.

The man then managed to toss a second shoe close to Bush before a scrum of security agents tackled him to the floor and removed him from an ornate room where the press conference was taking place.

Bush was not injured and joked about the incident. "All I can report is it is a size 10," he said.

Zaidi was seated in the second row of seats, about 12 feet from Bush's lectern. Zaidi, colleagues said, was kidnapped by Shiite militiamen last year and was later released. Throwing a shoe at someone is considered the worst possible insult in Iraq, and is meant to show extreme disrespect and hatred towards someone

Bush landed in Iraq Sunday under a veil of secrecy for his fourth and presumably final stop as president in a war zone that will be central to defining his turbulent presidency.

Air Force One landed in Baghdad at around 4 p.m. local time after a 10-1/2 hour overnight flight from Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington. Bush was scheduled to meet with U.S. troops and Iraqi leaders about a recently completed security agreement, which calls for the withdrawal of U.S. forces by 2011.

After meeting with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani at Salam Palace, Bush hailed the security agreement as "a reminder of our friendship and as a way forward to help the Iraqi people realize the blessings of a free society."

"The work hasn't been easy, but it has been necessary for American security, Iraqi hope, and world peace," Bush said, adding: "I am just so grateful that I had a chance to come back to Iraq before my presidency ended."

Bush's praise for the security agreement is particularly remarkable given that the U.S. administration spent years dismissing proposals for withdrawal timelines as dangerous admissions of defeat. The agreement came after months of hard bargaining by Iraqi leaders, who insisted on a firm date for the removal of U.S. troops. Bush and his aides characterize the agreement as a sign of improvement, and Bush said earlier this week that the fight in Iraq was nearing "a successful end."

His last visit comes against a backdrop of declining violence across Iraq, which the Bush Administration attributes to a buildup of thousands of reinforcements last year. U.S. commanders have also credited the lower levels of violence to a ceasefire by anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr and to the Sunni Awakening, in which former insurgents and tribal leaders turned their weapons against Sunni extremists.

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