The crowd of more than 500 people was a cross-section of life in the Green Zone, the complex that has occupied the heart of the capital for the past five years: American soldiers with assault rifles; British, Australian and Italian troops; security contractors in wrap-around sunglasses; embassy officials in suits; cleaners; men in running gear with .45 automatics on their hips; and a woman dressed as though for cocktail party. All file past the commander, who shakes their hands and poses for the army photographer.
One Green Zone veteran said General Petraeus drew bigger crowds than almost any other celebrity visitor, including Angelina Jolie, Dick Cheney, the vice-president, and Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State. Only the right-wing talk show host Bill O'Reilly, known for shouting down liberal guests on his Fox Channel programme, drew similar crowds.
General Petraeus has often said that he has no ambition to run for public office, but this would be perfect training for any campaign trail. His smile never wavers throughout the 45-minute ritual, which, with military precision, gets more than 500 people across the wooden podium in a cafeteria of the Republican Palace.
Only at the very end does he look slightly bemused, when he finds himself posing in a group photo with eight Sri Lankan waiters, far from home and looking for a little celebrity action to relieve the tedium of their daily grind.
Then he steps off the stage and marches briskly back to the business of running the war.
Too bad we have to read about this on a UK web site.