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Last Updated: Friday, 28 November, 2003, 10:41 GMT
Bush back from surprise Iraq trip
George W Bush serves turkey to US troops in Baghdad
Mr Bush helped serve a traditional Thanksgiving meal
President Bush has arrived back in the United States after a surprise trip to Baghdad, where he spent two hours with US troops celebrating Thanksgiving Day.

The trip - 30 hours from start to finish - was kept secret until Mr Bush left Baghdad due to security concerns.

Correspondents say the visit has caused ripples of patriotic fervour in the US. The news came just as Americans were eating their own Thanksgiving dinners.

Mr Bush told troops the US would not be swayed by ongoing attacks in Iraq.

"We did not charge hundreds of miles into the heart of Iraq, pay a bitter cost of casualties, defeat a ruthless dictator and liberate 25 million people only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins," he told 600 US soldiers.

The BBC's David Bamford, in Washington, says that politically speaking, this was a spectacularly well-planned event, one year ahead of presidential elections.

In America the visit is being hailed as a public-relations coup that was a central topic of conversation around the nation's Thanksgiving dinner tables.

Air Force One
Air Force One landed with its lights out

The Washington Post described it as the third key image of the Bush presidency - alongside Mr Bush with a loudhailer atop the rubble at Ground Zero, and the president declaring the war on Iraq a "mission accomplished" on board the USS Abraham Lincoln in May.

But it adds that "it is too soon to know whether the image of Bush in his Army jacket... will become a symbol of strong leadership or a symbol of unwarranted bravado".

The New York Times also refers to "mission accomplished", suggesting "Mr Bush may have managed to supplant what has become the single most problematic image of him in this war".

Since 1 May, 70 more US soldiers have been killed in hostile action than during the war itself - and November has been the worst month for casualties so far.

'Looking for a meal'

Had word of Bush's Iraq trip leaked, it would have been cancelled.

HIGH-PROFILE VISITS TO IRAQ
27 November - President Bush
26 November - UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
13 November - Italian Defence Minister Antonio Martino
11 November - Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller
24 October - US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz
14 September - US Secretary of State Colin Powell
5 September - US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
29 May - UK Prime Minister Tony Blair

Even the troops of the First Armoured Division had not been told in advance that Mr Bush was coming on the visit - the first to Iraq by a US president.

Paul Bremer, the top US civilian administrator in Iraq who was on a scheduled visit to the troops, told them he was going to read a message from the president.

But he then announced he would defer to the most senior person present - Mr Bush's cue to appear.

"I was just looking for a warm meal somewhere," Mr Bush said.

"Thanks for inviting me to dinner ... I can't think of a finer group of folks to have Thanksgiving dinner with than you all."

He told cheering troops he brought a message on behalf of America: "We thank you for your service, we are proud of you and America stands solidly behind you."

Ovations

Mr Bush left Texas on Wednesday night, stopping over briefly in Washington to change planes before heading to Iraq.

The trip was shrouded in secrecy. Secret service agents guarding his Texas ranch were not told, and his family found out only a few hours before he left.

President Bush in Iraq

Air Force One arrived at Baghdad International Airport at around 1732 local time (1432 GMT) on Thursday - landing in darkness, with its lights dimmed to make it less of a target.

A missile hit at a transport plane landing in Baghdad at the weekend. The plane landed safely despite a fire in one of its wings.

Mr Bush travelled with a small pool of journalists and camera crews - who were not allowed to report on the event until after they were airborne again.

The president was due to travel on to Texas and arrive back at his ranch in the early hours of Friday morning.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Orla Guerin
"He needs to reassure the troops and the American public that project Iraq is going well"



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