By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 14, 2008 - President Bush paid a surprise visit to Iraq yesterday, praising lawmakers in Baghdad for passing the status of forces agreement with the United States and offering a farewell message of thanks to U.S. troops serving there. "I am just so grateful that I had a chance to come back to Iraq before my presidency ended," Bush told reporters in Baghdad during a news conference with Iraqi President Jalal Talibani.
Bush said one of the reasons for his trip was to herald the passage of the Strategic Framework Agreement and the Status of Forces Agreement -- two pieces of legislation that will help guide the future security and political relationship between Washington and Baghdad.
The president said passage of the agreements is "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," he said.
Aboard Air Force One en route to Iraq, National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley underscored the meaning of the Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, which he said exemplified Iraqi political progress.
"The SOFA provides a framework for U.S. forces to continue their activities in Iraq, but in a way that gives greater deference and recognition of Iraqi sovereignty, and also provides a framework and a glide path for them to gradually over time complete their mission successfully," Hadley said.
Hadley said one purpose of the president's visit was to praise U.S. servicemembers in Iraq.
"The reason for the trip is for the President to say thank you to the men and women in uniform who have done such a magnificent job and brought us to the point of where we are today -- which is a pretty optimistic place," Hadley said.
Army Gen. Douglas Lute, deputy national security advisor for Iraq and Afghanistan, said that 2009 will be a year of transition for Iraq. The country is slated to hold provincial elections next month followed by a national election next December.
"At the same time, '09 is the first year of implementation of this new agreement," Lute said of the SOFA. "So while our troops on the ground don't face a new mission, they do face a new operating environment, and that's largely described by way of the terms of this agreement."