- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 23, 2008

BAGHDAD (AP) | It was long past sunrise and still no clue: Where’s Barack Obama?

Was he having breakfast with soldiers? No reply from the military. A market visit perhaps? No sign of that. Then word trickled in Tuesday that he was spotted west of Baghdad having tea with Sunni tribal leaders who have joined the fight against insurgents.

Sen. Obama’s tour through America’s war zones became an international game of hide-and-seek.

Only two events by the Democratic presidential contender were announced in advance during his swing through Afghanistan and Iraq with two breathers in Kuwait. News dripped out after - sometimes long after - the Illinois senator was onto the next thing.

Actually, that’s rather typical for this type of Washington foray. Visits by congressional delegations - fact-finding missions known to diplomats as “Codels” - are designed as low-profile affairs paid for with federal funds.

Even in Iraq, American lawmakers come to chat with diplomats and visit bases with little notice by the Baghdad-based news media. They usually wait until they return to home turf - in front of the voters they need to impress - before holding court.

Mr. Obama’s rival for the White House, Sen. John McCain, has been a frequent visitor to Iraq as ranking GOP member on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Last year, he held a press conference in the protected Green Zone and toured a Baghdad market, surrounded by a knot of security.

Mr. Obama took a different, more subdued route. He avoided public comments except for a few snippets, one-on-one network TVinterviews for viewers at home and a written statement released in the name of Mr. Obama and the other two senators in the delegation.

The fog began to settle around the trip soon after they departed late last week.

Obama touched down in Kuwait when many expected the plane to head directly to Afghanistan.

A day later the military released video of Mr.Obama playing basketball with troops at Camp Arifjan, a major gateway for U.S. soldiers moving into and out of neighboring Iraq.

By that time, Mr. Obama was already digging into his Afghanistan schedule. Trouble was - at least for those assigned to cover his trip - there was no easy way to find him. U.S. Embassy and military media gatekeepers were not letting anything leak out in a country where Taliban and al Qaeda attacks have spiked in recent months.

The official channels at first would not even confirm he was there.

The first glimpse came in a grainy video shot on a little digital camera that the Associated Press received from Afghan officials in eastern Afghanistan. The proud Afghans wanted the world to see Mr. Obama being hugged by Gul Agha Sherzai, the burly and bearded governor of Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan.

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