"The trip," notes the Associated Press's Terrence Hunt, "was known only to a handful of aides and a small number of reporters sworn to secrecy because of obvious security threats for Bush and members of his entourage."
Here's more on that front from the pool report:
Reporters were informed of the president's travel plans in person at a variety of Washington area restaurants, homes, and cafes little more than 24 hours before departure…Poolers were under strict orders to tell nobody about the travel, including spouses. Some were asked if their bureaus would notice their absence for a day or two.The White House was serious about secrecy: The Iraqi government didn't know about the trip -- Maliki and members of his cabinet thought they were going to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad for a video teleconference. Many members of Bush's cabinet did not know about the trip in advance.
The White House acknowledged that the security situation in Iraq necessitated the surprise nature of the trip. Not that there wasn't some spinning involved. "Obviously, when you're entering into a situation where the enemy is so active we have to be extra cautious," said Presidential counselor Dan Bartlett. "But I think the American people and the entire international community are reassured by the fact that the president is making such a personal effort to ensure the success of the new government."
We're curious how the press is going to play the secrecy angle. When the president made his surprise trip to Iraq for Thanksgiving, the White House could explain the secrecy of the trip by focusing on how Bush's visit was a morale-boosting surprise for the troops. This time, however, even Bartlett acknowledges that "a very determined enemy" and a dangerous security situation necessitated keeping the Iraqi government and much of the cabinet and press in the dark. One wonders whether the story of this trip will be Bush's "personal effort to ensure the success of the new government," as the White House hopes, or if instead journalists will focus on the fact that the president even now has to take relatively dramatic measures to ensure his safety in Baghdad.