In this image from APTN video, a man hurls a shoe at U.S. President George W. Bush during a news conference with Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Sunday. ((Associated Press))

Security officials pounced on an Iraqi journalist after he threw a pair of shoes at U.S. President George W. Bush during a news conference in Baghdad on Sunday.

Bush was nearly hit on the head, but ducked out of the way as the man tossed one of the shoes, then another, while the president stood beside Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The journalist called Bush a dog before being hustled away.

The president said he didn't feel threatened by the action, and other reporters at the news conference offered their apologies.

The security breach came as Bush made a farewell visit to Iraq, a place that defines his presidency for better or worse, just 37 days before he hands the war off to a successor who has pledged to end it.

Air Force One, the president's jetliner, landed at Baghdad International Airport in the afternoon local time, after a secretive Saturday night departure from Washington and an 11-hour flight. Bush then flew to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan for a rally with U.S. troops and a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai .

In a sign of modest security gains in this war zone in Iraq, Bush was welcomed with a formal arrival ceremony — a flourish that was not part of his previous three trips to Iraq.

But in many ways this was a victory lap without a victory, as nearly 150,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq fighting a war that is unpopular in the United States and across the globe.

More than 4,209 members of the U.S. military have been killed in a war that has cost U.S. taxpayers $576 billion US since it began five years and nine months ago.

While violence has slowed in Iraq, attacks continue, especially in the north. At least 55 people were killed Thursday in a suicide bombing in a restaurant near Kirkuk.

Bush planned a rapid-fire series of meetings with top Iraqi leaders, including al-Maliki. The two were marking the recent U.S.-Iraq security agreement, which sets a deadline of Dec. 31, 2011, for the withdrawal of all American troops.

Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said the agreement was "a remarkable document — unique in the Arab world because it was publicly debated, discussed and adopted by an elected parliament."

An 'increasingly subordinate role' for U.S. forces

Hadley said the trip "shows that we are moving into a different relationship ... with Iraqis rightfully exercising greater sovereignty, we in an increasingly subordinate role."

It was Bush's last trip to the war zone before president-elect Barack Obama takes office Jan. 20. Bush's most recent Iraq stop was over 15 months ago, in September 2007.


Bush puts his arm around Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, after arriving in Baghdad. ((Evan Vucci/Associated Press))

Bush was met at the airport by U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and the top U.S. commander Gen. Raymond Odierno. The president then climbed aboard a helicopter for a five-minute flight to the presidential palace.

Other Iraqi officials on Bush's agenda were Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, the country's two vice-presidents, the speaker of the Council of Representatives and the head of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Massoud Barzani.

The trip was conducted under a cloak of secrecy. People travelling with the president agreed to tell almost no one about the plans, and the White House released false schedules detailing activities planned for Bush in Washington on Sunday.

Bush's visit came after Defence Secretary Robert Gates's unannounced stop in Iraq on Saturday, at a sprawling military base in the central part of the country. Gates will be the lone Republican holdover from the Bush cabinet in the Obama administration.

Obama has promised he will bring all U.S. combat troops back home from Iraq a little over a year after taking office, as long as commanders agree a withdrawal would not endanger American personnel or Iraq's security.

Obama has said that on his first day as president, he will summon the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the White House and give them a new mission: responsibly ending the war.

Obama has said he should be able to shift troops and bolster the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. Commanders there want at least 20,000 more forces, but they won't be available until some leave Iraq.

Security pact replaces UN mandate

The new U.S.-Iraqi security pact goes into effect next month. It replaces a UN mandate that gives the U.S.-led coalition broad powers to conduct military operations and detain people without charge if they were believed to pose a security threat.

The bilateral agreement changes some of those terms and calls for all American troops to be withdrawn by the end of 2011, in two stages.

The first stage begins next year, when U.S. troops pull back from Baghdad and other Iraqi cities by the end of June.

Odierno said Saturday that even after that summer deadline, some U.S. troops will remain in Iraqi cities. They will serve in local security stations as training and mentoring teams, and so will not violate the mandate for American combat forces to leave urban areas, he said.

With files from the Associated Press