July 21, 2008 -- Sen. Barack Obama touched down in Iraq on Monday and was soon photographed huddled with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and later joking with the commander of American troops in Iraq.
According to the Associated Press, Obama emerged from the Maliki meeting Monday and described the discussion as 'constructive'. The Obama-Maliki meeting comes amid reports that Iraq's government shares the Democratic candidate's desire for a withdrawal of U.S. forces.
Iraq's government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh who was present for the meeting spoke to reporters following and said that while his government did not endorse a fixed date they hoped "in 2010 that combat troops will withdraw from Iraq".
SEN. BARACK OBAMA WILL SIT DOWN FOR AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH ABC NEWS' TERRY MORAN IN BAGHDAD FOR "NIGHTLINE" AT 11:35 P.M. ET TONIGHT. EXCERPTS OF THE INTERVIEW WILL ALSO AIR ON MONDAY'S "WORLD NEWS WITH CHARLES GIBSON" AND TUESDAY'S "GOOD MORNING AMERICA."
The Iraq leg of Obama's world tour is likely to be the most sensitive as he attempts to project himself as a presidential candidate with a command of foreign policy and war.
High on Obama's agenda are meetings with top U.S. military planners and Gen. David Petreaus, the commander of American troops in Iraq and the architect of the troop surge strategy which Obama has opposed.
Obama and Petreaus have also staked out opposing positions on whether there should be a timetable for withdrawing American forces.
Before sitting down with Petreaus, however, Obama met with Maliki who stunned the White House this weekend by being quoted in the German magazine Der Spiegel saying Obama's call for withdrawing U.S. troops over a 16-month period "would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes."
Maliki's office later said he was misquoted, but an independent translation of his comments confirmed the gist of his remarks.
McCain Challenges Obama to See Success in Iraq
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told "Good Morning America" that he was glad Obama was in Iraq and insisted the trip will give his Democratic rival an opportunity to see the success of the surge strategy.
"He'll be able to have the opportunity to see the success of the surge. It is a success. This is the same strategy that he voted against, railed against," McCain told ABC News' Diane Sawyer.
"He should admit he was wrong about the surge," McCain later added.
Obama is seeing a vastly different Iraq than the one he saw when he last visited more than two years ago. Violence and American casualties are way down and the streets of Baghdad are bustling again.
So far this month, five U.S. troops have been killed in combat, compared with 78 U.S. deaths last July. Attacks across the country are down more than 80 percent.
As a sign of the changing times, ABC News even found an exhibit in a Baghdad art gallery that included paintings of nudes.
The gallery owner said such a display was impossible a year ago, when the city was besieged by Islamic militants.
"But now because of security I can exhibit," the gallery owner told ABC News.
The Forgotten War in Afghanistan
Obama arrives in Iraq Monday after a weekend in Afghanistan, where increasing violence has caused concern.
Obama has said he wants to pull troops from Iraq and deploy them to Afghanistan where he said the situation is "precarious and urgent."
When asked if McCain agreed with Obama's assessment, McCain said, "I think it's serious." But he said troops would be available for Afghanistan "as we succeed in Iraq and come home in victory and honor."
"You don't have to choose to lose in Iraq," McCain said. "If we had lost in Iraq, the complications in Afghanistan would have been enormously more difficult," he added.
McCain stumbled again over his geography while discussing the two war fronts. At one point he cited the problems with the "Iraq-Pakistan border."
Iraq and Pakistan do not share a border. McCain was apparently referring to the Afghan-Pakistan border. Taliban militants use the border area as a safe haven from which to attack U.S. troops.