Former Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search) will travel to Iraq next month as the war-torn country prepares for elections.

The Massachusetts senator, who lost his bid for the presidency in November, is expected to visit several Middle East countries, with the focus on the situation in Iraq and the war on terror.

A decorated Vietnam War veteran, Kerry also plans to meet with U.S. troops, including some from Massachusetts, to thank them for their services, spokeswoman April Boyd said Thursday.

During the campaign, Kerry criticized President Bush's handling of the Iraq (search) war. Although Kerry voted in October 2002 to give Bush the authority to wage war, he later voted against additional funds for Iraq and Afghanistan reconstruction, arguing that the commander in chief didn't have a solid plan to restore peace.

Kerry is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (search).

In addition to his Iraq trip, Kerry will take time during the holidays to host events in Massachusetts and Iowa in which he will thank his campaign supporters. He travels to Iowa on Friday.

Kerry's solo overseas trip comes after several senators endured a harrowing flight out of Baghdad, and amid increased security concerns as violence there continues to escalate.

Last week, a group of senators, including Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., traveled to Iraq and found conditions far more dangerous than during a similar trip a year ago. Chafee described a frightening helicopter flight out of Baghdad as the aircraft weaved to avoid enemy fire.

The Iraqi elections are scheduled for Jan. 30 and will be the first popular vote since Saddam Hussein's ouster.