BAGHDAD --Eschewing talk of politics and strategy, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said he spent his 24-hour trip to Iraq meeting as many people from the state as possible.
The trip comes at what US officials in Washington and Baghdad say is a critical juncture. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced his government last weekend, but vital posts overseeing the police, the army and national security have yet to be filled.
With American casualties on the rise this spring the White House and Pentagon, which had said there could be significant reductions of US troops this year, have backed off those predictions.
But Romney stuck to the personal in his meetings with Massachusetts residents serving in Iraq.
"I talked to them about their personal sacrifices," Romney said in an interview with the Boston Globe. "I wanted to express our appreciation for their sacrifices and the efforts they'e making on our behalf."
About 500 Massachusetts National Guardsmen and many more active-duty military personnel from the state are stationed in Iraq.
Romney arrived early Tuesday evening and traveled to the Green Zone, the heavily fortified area of central Baghdad that houses the US embassy and the Iraqi government. Today he met with Massachusetts troops at the sprawling complex of US military bases in and around the Baghdad Airport.
He said he spoke with them about their homes, their families, how long they've been deployed.
"I had a chance to get to know a number of them," Romney told the Globe. He said some had given him notes that he would pass on to their families in the US.
Earlier this week Romney met with Massachusetts Guardsmen in Iraq. This evening he planned to return to Kuwait briefly before traveling on to Afghanistan.
This was Romney's first trip to Iraq.
"I was honored to be able to come here to recognize their sacrifice," he said. "This is a war zone, and people are making enormous sacrifices to bring order and security to this country."
They are, he said, "making in some cases the supreme sacrifice to build a nation."