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Rumsfeld makes surprise visit to Iraq

Story Highlights

• Defense secretary offers farewell and thanks to U.S. troops
• Rumsfeld said goodbye to Pentagon employees Friday
• Robert Gates to take over office December 18
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- With only nine days left on his job, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made an unannounced appearance in Iraq on Saturday to say farewell to U.S. troops, a Defense Department spokesman said.

Rumsfeld went there "to express appreciation to the troops for what they are doing and for the sacrifices they and their families are making," said Lt. Col. Todd Vician. He did not say when Rumsfeld arrived.

Rumsfeld visited Baghdad during his trip, according to a Pentagon spokesman. (Watch how Rumsfeld was able to pull off the surprise visit Video)

The trip was shrouded in secrecy, partly for security reasons. But Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told CNN Rumsfeld wanted a "very small footprint" -- wishing the trip to be about him and the troops, without a lot of press coverage.

Rumsfeld will be replaced December 18, when former CIA Director Robert Gates takes the oath of office.

The 74-year-old Washington veteran said an emotional goodbye Friday to Pentagon employees at his last town hall meeting, and praised them for their work. (Watch classic Rumsfeld in farewell, by golly Video)

Several times during that session he addressed the Iraq war, alluding to the pressure to change the strategy there.

Grim assessments and recommendations for changes were made this week by the nonpartisan Iraq Study Group, and three more studies are expected, including one from the Defense Department.

The sectarian violence plaguing Iraq continued on the day of Rumsfeld's visit, with car bombings in Karbala and Mosul killing eight people. The U.S. military also announced the deaths of two U.S. Marines, raising the December toll for U.S. forces to 38. (Full story)

Rumsfeld resigned in the wake of criticism over his management of the war. He announced his resignation November 8, the day after Democrats won both houses of Congress in the midterm elections.

Rumsfeld told his employees he may write a book, and joked: "I always thought I was too young to write a book. I can't use that anymore."

He became defense secretary in January 2001 after President Bush took office. He also served in that job from 1975 to 1977 under President Gerald Ford, and has had other government posts. He was a congressman from Illinois in the 1960s.


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Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visits troops at Balad Air Base on Saturday.

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