By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
April 7, 2009 - In a surprise visit to Iraq today, President Barack Obama declared to troops in Baghdad that now is the time for Iraqis "to take responsibility for their country." Obama's stop to visit some 1,500 troops, government civilians and contractors at Camp Victory's Al Faw Palace in Baghdad was his first to Iraq as president.
Obama promptly thanked the troops for their service and personal sacrifice "under enormous strain ... through controversy and difficulty and politics."
"You have performed brilliantly in every mission that has been given to you. You've kept your eyes focused on just doing your job," Obama said. "You have given Iraq the opportunity to stand on its own as a democratic country."
The next 18 months will be critical for the Iraqis to make political accommodations and resolve their constitutional differences, he said.
The United States is committed to Iraq's success, and will continue to work with Iraq's security forces and government to ensure Iraq remains stable. The U.S. military still remains an important aspect to Iraq's stability, and Obama said he hopes Iraq will continue to be a "good neighbor and a good ally."
"We can't do it for them," he said. "But what we can do is make sure that we are a stalwart partner; that we are working alongside them."
Obama also stressed that although the spotlight has shifted to Afghanistan, it's important not to lose focus in Iraq. He said military efforts in Iraq "have to be even more focused."
"Obviously we've spent a lot of time trying to get Afghanistan right," he said. "But I think it's important for us to remember that there's still a lot of work to be done here."
In closing, the president assured the audience that "we have not forgotten what you have already done; we are grateful for what you will do; and as long as I'm in the White House, you're going to get the support you need and the thanks that you deserve from a grateful nation."
In a press availability prior to speaking to the troops, Obama told reporters that the upcoming national elections may resurface unresolved political and religious issues.
"It's very important for [the United States] to use all of our influence to encourage parties to resolve these issues in ways that are equitable and fair," he said.
Following his visit with Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, and his troops, Obama met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talibani.