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GIs at military base mob Obama

Troops take photos, seek handshakes of president in Iraq

President Barack Obama greets military personnel on Tuesday at Camp Victory in Baghdad.

President Barack Obama greets military personnel on Tuesday at Camp Victory in Baghdad.

WASHINGTON – President Obama went for the defining photo and television shots in Iraq and got it – pictures of hundreds of U.S. troops cheering as he told them it was time for the Iraqis to take charge of their own future.

The war zone photo opportunity produced a stunning show of appreciation for Obama from military men and women who have made great sacrifices, many serving repeated tours in a highly unpopular war.

And the televised outpouring of affection probably will prove critical to the credibility of a new and liberal commander in chief as he tries to sell U.S. warriors and the American public on the grim prospects now facing them in Afghanistan.

Obama has pledged many thousands more U.S. forces for Afghanistan, making good on a campaign promise to intensify the fight against a resurgent Taliban and its al-Qaida allies hiding along the mountainous border with Pakistan.

Even as U.S. troops return from Iraq, many eventually will find themselves headed to Afghanistan. And the peace dividend that accrues with the end of the Iraq war probably will be eaten up by the intensified U.S. effort in a nation known as the graveyard of empires.

The cost of the Afghanistan war will fall to American taxpayers who already have seen hundreds of billions of dollars being spent to save the crippled U.S. financial sector even as they cope with the severest economic recession in more than half a century.

Obama will need all his political finesse to put Americans at ease with spending billions more for a war in a distant land.

The president’s unannounced stop Tuesday in battle-scarred Iraq capped a talky, fence-mending sojourn through Europe where the new president – warmly received by the European people – sought to plant the seeds of improved relations with standoffish governments.

But at Baghdad’s Camp Victory assembled U.S. forces mobbed Obama, snapping pictures and stretching out their arms for a handshake with the president who personally brought the message that they had “performed brilliantly” in a job that was nearly done.

“It is time for us to transition to the Iraqis. They need to take responsibility for their country,” Obama told a cheering crowd.

Obama’s reception as the president who is ending the highly unpopular Iraq war could not have contrasted more starkly with the staid, set-piece visits by the conflict’s author, former President George W. Bush.


Daily developments

• A salesman rescued a baby from a blaze ignited by a car bombing in a Shiite neighborhood Tuesday, reaching through the shattered window and grabbing the boy after the blast killed his mother and eight other people.

• A suicide car bomber killed three policemen and wounded seven people at a police checkpoint in Fallujah.

The Associated Press

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