Monday, April 02, 2007

April Fools in Baghdad

Rarely does one go to such an elaborate effort to pull off an April Fools' joke.

After a heavily guarded walk through a newly fortified Baghdad market, Sen. John McCain declared that the American public was not getting "a full picture" of the progress unfolding in Iraq.

McCain (Ariz.), who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, cited a drop in murders, the creation of a constellation of joint U.S.-Iraqi military outposts and a rise in intelligence tips as signs of the progress.

"These and other indications are reason for cautious optimism," McCain said, voicing an observation increasingly heard from U.S. officials.

The senator and three other Republican members of Congress appeared most impressed by their visit to Shorja market, citing the hour they spent there as proof that Baghdad was getting safer under a nearly seven-week-old security offensive.

"Never have I been able to drive from the airport, never have I been able to go out into the city as I was today," McCain said. ...

Last week, McCain said it was safe to walk some of the streets of Baghdad.

But Sunday's visit took place under heavy security. McCain and his delegation held a news conference inside the heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses the U.S. Embassy and Iraqi government offices. Outside the Green Zone, they rode in armored Humvees protected by dozens of U.S. soldiers and wore bulletproof vests.

They visited a joint U.S.-Iraqi military outpost in the Karrada area of central Baghdad, which Iraqis view as one of the capital's safer neighborhoods.

Part of the Shorja market, normally one of the capital's busiest commercial districts, is now fortified with blast walls and barriers that cut off vehicle traffic. ...

"I, too, find myself leaving my day at the market in Baghdad with a new sense of cautious optimism that freedom might just work for these people," said (Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.)).

Pence said he was deeply moved by his ability to "mix and mingle unfettered among ordinary Iraqis" and to have tea and haggle over the price of a rug. The Shorja market, he said, was "like a normal outdoor market in Indiana in the summer time." ...

At the news conference, McCain criticized Western and Iraqi journalists, including many who had covered Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, for not reporting the good news in Iraq.

One Iraqi journalist, speaking in English, asked him: "I just read on the Internet that you said there are areas in Baghdad that you can walk around freely?"

"I just came from one," McCain replied.

"Yeah, and which area would that be?" the journalist asked.

"What kind of security you had today?" asked another journalist. ...

After the news conference, reporters asked a U.S. Embassy official for the name of the market the delegation had visited. He declined to identify it, saying the market could come under attack. On Sunday night, U.S. military and embassy officials said it had been Shorja.


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