By STEVEN LEE MYERS
BAGHDAD — President Bush flew to Iraq on Sunday, his fourth and final trip, to highlight the recently completed security agreement between the United States and the country that occupied the bulk of his presidency and will to a large extent define his legacy.But his appearance at a news conference here was interrupted by a man, apparently a journalist, who leaped to his feet and threw one shoe at the president, who ducked and narrowly missed being struck. Chaos ensued. He threw a second shoe, which also narrowly missed Mr. Bush. The man was roughly 12 feet from the lectern in the center of two rows of chairs, about two feet from a pool of reporters. A scrum of security agents descended on the man and wrestled him, first 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. An Iraqi accompanying the pool of reporters, colleague said the man had shouted, “This is a farewell kiss, dog.”
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 Mr. 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 Mr. Bush’s fourth visit to Iraq On arriving here; he met the two senior American officials, Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker and Gen. 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 Mr. 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.
Mr. Bush’s national security advisor, Stephen J. 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, Mr. 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 unmistakable hint of triumphalism in Mr. Hadley’s remarks, as in Mr. 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,” Mr. Hadley told reporters 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 S.U.V. 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 Mr. 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. Mr. Talabani spoke first, praising the president: “Thanks to him and his courageous leadership we are here now in this building.”
Mr. 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.”
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company