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Obama makes unscheduled visit to Iraq

ISTANBUL, Turkey — President Barack Obama made an unscheduled and unannounced visit to Iraq on Tuesday.

He landed in Baghdad after flying there secretly from Istanbul, a detour on his way home to Washington after a five-country, eight-day trip to the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Czech Republic and Turkey.

In a rapid-fire visit that was kept secret until Air Force One landed for security reasons, Obama was to meet with Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, and with troops at Camp Victory, and will award 10 Medals of Valor.

Weather prevented him from taking a helicopter to visit Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and President Jalal Talabani as he'd hoped, aides said, and Obama instead planned to speak with Maliki and Talabani by telephone.

"Commanders on the ground determined weather prevents helicopter travel," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said.

When he was asked en route to Baghdad why Obama went there instead of Afghanistan, as had been rumored, Gibbs said that the president chose Iraq for three reasons: its proximity to Turkey, the need to consult with Iraqi officials because efforts at progress there "lie in political solutions" and the fact that Obama values U.S. troops in any locale.

"Our men and women who are in harm's way, either in Iraq or Afghanistan, deserve our utmost respect and appreciation," Gibbs said.

Obama's been working to wind down U.S. involvement in Iraq, even as he sends more troops to nearby Afghanistan.

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