But his appearance at a news conference here was interrupted by an Iraqi journalist who shouted in Arabic — “This is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog” — and threw one of his shoes at the president, who ducked and narrowly avoided being struck.
As chaos ensued, he threw his other shoe, shouting, “This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq.” The second shoe also narrowly missed Bush as Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki stuck out a hand in front of the president’s face to help shield him.
A scrum of security agents descended on the man, who was about 12 feet from the lectern, and wrestled him to the floor and then out of the ornate room where the news conference was taking place. The president was uninjured and brushed off the incident. “All I can report is it is a size 10,” he said jokingly before continuing his news conference and noting the apologies of Iraqi journalists in the front row.
Shortly before 10 p.m., Bush departed the Green Zone by helicopter to Camp Victory, where he was greeted with cheers and whoops from hundreds of troops inside the enormous rotunda of the Al Faw palace. Speaking at a lectern beneath an enormous American flag that nearly reached the domed ceiling, he praised this generation of soldiers and reflected on the sacrifice of those who had died.
He called the surge “one of the greatest successes in the history of the United States military.”
“Thanks to you,” he told the soldiers, “the Iraq we’re standing in today is dramatically freer, dramatically safer and dramatically better than the Iraq we found eight years ago.”
Bush’s arrival here during daylight hours had been one measure of progress; his first visit on Thanksgiving Day 2003 took place entirely at night.
As with previous visits — in November 2003, June 2006 and September 2007 — preparations for the visit were secretive and carried out with ruse. The White House schedule for Sunday had Bush attending the “Christmas in Washington” performance at the National Building Museum in downtown Washington. Instead, he left the White House by car on Saturday night, arriving at Andrews at 9 p.m. Air Force One remained inside its immaculate hangar until moments before taking off. A dozen journalists accompanying him were only told of the trip on Friday and allowed to tell only a superior and a spouse — and only in person.
Air Force One arrived in Baghdad at 4 p.m. after a 10-and-a-half-hour overnight flight from Andrews Air Force Base near Washington. It was Bush’s fourth visit to IraqOn arriving here, he met the two senior American officials, Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General Ray Odierno, on the tarmac. He met with Iraqi leaders and was expected to meet with American troops.
The president and his aides have touted the security agreement as a landmark in Iraq’s troubled history, one made possible by the dramatic drop in violence over the last year. They credit the large increase in American troops Bush ordered in 2007 for creating enough security to allow political progress to take root.
The new security agreements, which take effect on Jan. 1, replace the United Nations Security Council resolutions that authorized the presence of foreign troops in Iraq. Iraqi officials extracted significant concessions from the Bush administration over several months of hard bargaining, including a commitment to withdrawal all American forces by the end of 2011.
Bush’s national security advisor, Stephen Hadley, said the situation in Iraq today was “a pretty optimistic place,” a phrase that few would have credibly used even a year ago. He described the security agreement that will govern American military operations after the new year “a remarkable document.”
Referring to the Iraqi parliament’s contentious and lively debate leading up to a vote last month, Hadley added that the agreement was a public one: “I think the only one there is in the Arab world, and publicly debated and discussed in an elected parliament.”
There was an unmistakeable hint of triumphalism in Hadley’s remarks, as in Bush’s valedictory visit, even though the president is leaving office with the war very much unfinished.
“If you’ve been through 2005 and 2006,” Hadley said en route to Baghdad, when asked whether the president was “feeling pretty good” about the situation here now, “it’s hard not to feel awfully good about 2008 and into 2009.”
After arriving at the airport, Mr Bush quickly flew into Baghdad itself aboard a military helicopter, under extraordinary security. The flight passed uneventfully, swooping low over neighborhoods along the once notorious airport road. He landed at Salam Palace, boarded a civilian SUV and drove a short distance to an honor guard with Iraq’s president, Jalal Talabani.
The president made brief remarks at the end of his meeting with Talabani and Iraq’s two vice presidents, Adil Abd al-Mahdi and Tariq al-Hashimi. The three comprise Iraq’s Presidency Council. The two leaders sat in arm chairs before their respective flags. Talabani spoke first, praising the president: “Thanks to him and his courageous leadership we are here now in this building.”
Bush then spoke, calling the security agreements “a reminder of our friendship and as a way forward to help the Iraqis realize the blessings of a free society.”
“The work hasn’t been easy,” he said, “but it’s been necessary.”