Updated 9:58 a.m.:

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) made a surprise trip to Baghdad Saturday. The visit is his first since becoming Speaker after the 2010 midterm elections.

Boehner’s office issued a press release with a statement from the House Speaker, which read in part:

Iraq is critical to our immediate and long-term national security interests, and we must protect the economic, political, and security progress that has been made.  The delegation focused on the issues expected to determine how the Government of Iraq and the United States proceed during the transition this year and how we will continue to work to maintain a mutually beneficial relationship moving forward which fully respects Iraq’s sovereignty and reflects core U.S. interests and values.

According to a press release from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s office, Boehner, as well as other members of Congress and Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman, met with Maliki’s staff to discuss the future of U.S.-Iraqi relations as well as the planned withdrawal of U.S. troops, 50,000 of which are scheduled to stay in the country until the end of this year.

During their meeting, Maliki reportedly assured Boehner that Iraqi forces were capable of maintaining peace and security in the country. According to the statement released by Maliki’s office, the Iraqi PM said, “The Iraqi security forces and the armed forces have become able to take responsibility, to maintain security and to work efficiently.“

Boehner’s trip comes nine days after Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited the country on a surprise trip of his own. During his trip, Gates emphasized that U.S. troops were prepared to stay after the 2011 deadline, if the Iraqi government requested they do so, but that time was running out. “My basic message to them was, if there is to be a presence to help them with some areas where they still need help, we’re open to that possibility. But they have to ask, and time is running out.”

Boehner was joined by Reps. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), Mike Conaway (R-Texas), Tom Rooney (R-Fla.), Joe Heck (R-Nev.), and Dan Boren (D-Okla.).

(Source: CNN, AFP)