Iraqis Perplexed, Hopeful After Bush Visit

Regular Iraqis looked on President Bush's (search2-hour visit to their country with befuddlement and bemusement, saying they knew it was meant for U.S. troops but hoping he gained some insight into the country during his brief stay.

For security reasons, Bush's Thanksgiving Day trip was kept secret. Members of Iraq's Governing Council (searchsaid they too weren't told about the president's arrival, though a few did meet with him.

Bush flew into Baghdad (searchThursday evening to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with U.S. troops. He reserved a word for Iraqis, few of whom were present in the military dining hall, saying the United States would stay until the job was done and that Iraqis have "an opportunity to seize the moment and rebuild your great country, based on human dignity and freedom."

Despite those remarks, Iraqis said they understood the trip wasn't meant for them.

"It meant little to the Iraqi people. Some are welcoming it, but most are dismissing its importance," said Kamal Mehdi, a cashier in Baghdad.

"U.S. soldiers needed such a visit to ... make them more confident in carrying out their tasks, and the Iraqi people are happy because it made Bush understand the reality of Iraq," said Wina Waria, an employee for a Baghdad trade company.

During his stop Baghdad airport, Bush also met with four members of the 25-seat Iraqi Governing Council. Members said, however, that the body was not told beforehand of the visit.

Mouwafik al-Rubei'e said he and three other Governing Council members had been simply invited to Thanksgiving dinner with Iraq's American administrator, L. Paul Bremer, and had no forewarning that they would be meeting Bush.

"It was a fruitful meeting," al-Rubei'e said. "The U.S. president reaffirmed his country commitment to build a new, democratic and prosperous Iraq."

Meanwhile, an explosion slightly damaged a highway overpass in western Baghdad Friday, and a U.S. soldier died on Thanksgiving from a gunshot wound of unknown origin in a base west of Baghdad, the military said.

More than 60 U.S. troops were killed in hostile action in November, more than any other month since the end of major combat in Iraq on May 1.

Since operations began, nearly 300 U.S. service members have died from hostile action. Another 136 have died from accidents and other causes.

One soldier died on Thanksgiving from a gunshot wound inside a heavily fortified base in Ramadi, 60 miles west of Baghdad. It was not immediately clear how the shooting occurred, a military statement said.

Bush's brief visit upstaged Friday's arrival in Baghdad of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is visiting U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan along with Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I.

The former first lady and Reed have been critical of the Bush administration's handling of postwar operations in both countries.