Obama in Iraq for fact finding mission

July 21, 2008 12:00 am

, BAGHDAD, July 21- Democratic White House candidate Barack Obama arrived in Iraq Monday on a fact-finding tour, days after confirming plans to withdraw US troops from Iraq in 16 months if he takes office next year.

"Senator Barack Obama arrived in Iraq this morning as part of a Congressional delegation, along with Senators Jack Reed and Chuck Hagel," embassy spokesman Armand Cucciniello said.

"The senators have a busy day ahead of them, as they meet with senior Iraqi officials, Coalition leadership and officials from the US embassy. They will also meet with constituent service members and civilian staff working in Iraq."

Obama flew in to Iraq — his second trip after a similar January 2006 Congressional fact-finding tour — from Kuwait where he spent the night after a visit to Kabul, where he pledged to downsize the number of US troops in Iraq and commit at least two more combat brigades to Afghanistan.

Obama’s camp has said the aim of his tour is to make an on-the-ground assessment of the war in Iraq and to meet the country’s leaders, whom he has criticised for not doing enough to rebuild their country.

"Iraq’s leaders have failed to invest tens of billions of dollars in oil revenues in rebuilding their own country, and they have not reached the political accommodation that was the stated purpose of the (US troop) surge," Obama wrote July 14 in The New York Times.

In his opinion piece and also two days later in a speech he confirmed his plan to declare an end to the Iraq war from the first day of becoming president and withdraw most US combat troops out of Iraq within 16 months.

His visit comes at a time when US President George W. Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki have agreed to include a "time-horizon" for the withdrawal of US forces in a security pact still being negotiated.

The Illinois senator, who voted against the March 2003 war to topple Saddam Hussein, arrives when violence in Iraq has fallen to a four-year low — partly on the back of a controversial "surge" of US troops which he had strongly opposed.
After more than five years at war in Iraq, more than 4,100 US troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis killed, Obama said Sunday it was time to refocus US policy on the region which spawned the September 11 attacks in 2001.

"They have sanctuary here," he said of Al-Qaeda in an interview with CBS in Afghanistan.

"They are gathering huge amounts of money as a consequence of the drug trade in the region. And so, that global network is centered in this area."

Obama called for at least two additional brigades, up to 10,000 troops, to be sent to Afghanistan.

"I think one of the biggest mistakes we’ve made strategically after 9/11 was to fail to finish the job here, focus our attention here. We got distracted by Iraq," he said.

Republican rival John McCain has lashed out at Obama for announcing his foreign policy even before his fact-finding visits.

"Apparently, he’s confident enough that he won’t find any facts that might change his opinion or alter his strategy. Remarkable," he said.

German weekly Der Spiegel said Maliki backed Obama’s plan to withdraw US troops within 16 months of his election, but Baghdad has denied the report.

Bush and key ally British Prime Minister Gordon Brown have consistently resisted calls to set a definite timetable for military withdrawals from Iraq.

A poll last Monday underlined why Obama needs to improve his standing on national security issues, and why McCain’s team senses he is vulnerable.

Some 72 percent of the 1,119 adults surveyed by telephone in the July 10-13 ABC News/Washington Post poll said McCain, a Vietnam War veteran, would be a good commander in chief. Only 48 percent thought the same of Obama.


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