President Obama has made a surprise visit to Iraq, where he told US troops it was time to transfer control of the country to the Iraqi people.The American leader also noted the next 18 months “could be critical” for the nation, which was invaded by the US in March 2003.
Mr Obama has called for an end to US combat operations there by August next year.
He flew to Baghdad aboard Air Force One on his first trip since taking office three months ago, with much of the travelling press who accompanied him to Europe kept in the dark.
The stop in the war zone caps his first overseas tour as US president.
But the Iraq visit was a badly kept secret, with government ministers in Baghdad sparking speculation about it several days before he left the US a week ago.
His arrival in Baghdad marks a new chapter in his strategy to wind down the unpopular war in the country and shift the United States’ military focus to Afghanistan.
Shortly after his arrival, Mr Obama met American troops at Camp Victory and told them the time for “transition to the Iraqis” has come.
Huge cheers went up from the soldiers as their commander in chief said Iraqis need to take responsibility for their country.Mr Obama also met General Ray Odierno, the top US army commander in Iraq, and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
The US military has been a presence in Iraq since leading the March 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
Mr Obama has pledged to end the war and bring home most troops by next summer.
He also said US troops had given Iraq an opportunity to stand on its own as a democratic country.
After a day of events in Istanbul, Turkey, Mr Obama flew in to the scene of the war he inherited from his predecessor George W Bush.
It is his first visit to Iraq since his November 2008 election victory, which was bolstered by his campaign pledge to bring US troops home.
Sky political analyst Jon-Christopher Bua said: “This ‘surprise’ trip to Iraq is the icing on the cake for the President as he wraps up this first foreign trip.
“Despite the fact that President Obama won in part due to his strong stand against the Iraq war, this timely detour by the new Commander in Chief is intended to show his support for the troops.
“He will clearly need their strong support and that of their families as he asks for their help to stabilise Afghanistan in the coming months.”