President Bush's surprise visit brought some good news for the troops serving there: The possibility that some of them could be going home.
President Bush is in Iraq, but not in Baghdad. The president, and what the pentagon is calling his "war council"-- including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and National Security Advisor Steven Hadley--are in the Al-Anbar province in the western part of the country.
Anbar is a backdrop that highlights progress in the troop surge the president ordered in January. It was once considered the most dangerous place in Iraq for U.S. troops, but security improved after tribal sheiks there began cooperating with the U.S. military to fight al-Qaeda.
"General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker tell me if the kind of success we are seeing continues, it will be possible to maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces," President Bush explained.
On the ground, President Bush met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and leaders of Iraq's primary sectarian groups there.
Also on the agenda, a meeting with General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. On Sept. 10, they'll appear before Congress to give their evaluation of the surge. After that, the president will give Congress his own report.
Recent congressionally mandated evaluations have not been rosy, particularly on the political front.
Pentagon Spokesman Geoff Morrell said this is the "last opportunity the president will have to meet with his war council and the Iraqi leadership before making his decision on the way forward in Iraq."
President Bush will be on the ground for six hours. The setting and his agenda is meant to send a message to Maliki, who has had a strained relationship with the White House recently, that the U.S. will work with local leaders for progress even if that means bypassing the central government in Baghdad.
It's usually pretty hard to miss when the president leaves the White House, but that changes when he's trying to move unnoticed.
The White House said the president sneaked out a side door late Sept. 2 and left the mansion's grounds accompanied by only one other vehicle instead of a motorcade.