Potemkin Markets

The New York Times reports on a congressional visit to Baghdad where it appears – to the senators and congressmen at least – that things are getting better:

…the politicians spoke of strolling through the marketplace, haggling with merchants and drinking tea. “The most deeply moving thing for me was to mix and mingle unfettered,” Mr. Pence said.

Mr. McCain was asked about a comment he made on a radio program in which he said that he could walk freely through certain areas of Baghdad.

“I just came from one,” he replied sharply. “Things are better and there are encouraging signs.”

He added, “Never have I been able to go out into the city as I was today.”

The report goes on, however, with a little background…

The delegation arrived at the market, which is called Shorja, on Sunday with more than 100 soldiers in armored Humvees — the equivalent of an entire company — and attack helicopters circled overhead, a senior American military official in Baghdad said. The soldiers redirected traffic from the area and restricted access to the Americans, witnesses said, and sharpshooters were posted on the roofs. The congressmen wore bulletproof vests throughout their hourlong visit.

“They paralyzed the market when they came,” Mr. Faiyad said during an interview in his shop on Monday. “This was only for the media.”

… and the merchants themselves seemed a little surprised to hear that things were getting better:

Merchants and customers say that a campaign by insurgents to attack Baghdad’s markets has put many shop owners out of business and forced radical changes in the way people shop. Shorja, the city’s oldest and largest market, set in a sprawling labyrinth of narrow streets and alleyways, has been bombed at least a half-dozen times since last summer.

At least 61 people were killed and many more wounded in a three-pronged attack there on Feb. 12 involving two vehicle bombs and a roadside bomb.

American and Iraqi security forces have tried to protect Shorja and other markets against car bombs by restricting vehicular traffic in some shopping areas and erecting blast walls around the markets’ perimeters. But those measures, while making the markets safer, have not made them safe.

In the latest large-scale attack on a Baghdad market, at least 60 people, most of them women and children, were killed last Thursday when a man wrapped in an explosives belt walked around such barriers into a crowded street market in the Shaab neighborhood and blew himself up.

In recent weeks, snipers hidden in Shorja’s bazaar have killed several people, merchants and the police say, and gunfights have erupted between militants and the Iraqi security forces in the area.

No doubt John McCain will be able to explain the discrepancies between his account and that of the merchants…

Published by

Ragged Clown

Based in San Jose, California

8 thoughts on “Potemkin Markets”

  1. I’ll do it for him, so he can focus on beating Rudy. There’s not a discrepancy between.

    a) “Things are better and there are encouraging signs.”

    and

    b) “…But those measures, while making the markets safer…”

    Perhaps in his radio remarks his said “it is safe”, “there is no more violence there” or “mission accomplished”? If so, that’d require explanation.

  2. He did not go so far as his colleague, Representative Mike Pence, Republican of Indiana

    “Like a normal outdoor market in Indiana in the summertime”

    but he did say that there were areas of Baghdad where one could walk freely and gave, as an example, his visit to this market.

  3. Are you sure he said “one could”?

    He did say “General Petraeus goes downtown almost every day … Of course, he has protection, and we had protection today.” Which seems like important context – shame on the NYT.

    The sense I got was the the secret service / whoever previously said “no way, we can’t reasonably protect you” and “ok” now.

    If the truth is they could have x years ago by spending y dollars locking the place down, and spent y on his recent visit in order to distort the “surge” results, then he lacks integrity and deserves his fall in the polls.

  4. I googled “McCain walk freely Baghdad” and all 478 articles seem to be based form the same AP report. They all had that same quote which seems to come from this CNN interview:

    http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0703/27/sitroom.02.html

    which is quoting McCain on a radio show.

    “There are neighborhoods in Baghdad where you and I could walk through those neighborhoods today.”

    I haven’t heard the radio show so it’s possible that the quote is taken out of context. I’ll track it down and report back.

    The CNN interview continues…

    MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I’d certainly like to bring Senator McCain up to speed, if he ever gives me the opportunity. And if I have any difficulty hearing you right now, Wolf, that’s because of the helicopter circling overhead and the gun battle that is blazing just a few blocks down the road.

    Is Baghdad any safer?

    Sectarian violence — one particular type of violence — is down. But none of the American generals here on the ground have anything like Senator McCain’s confidence.

    I mean, Senator McCain’s credibility now on Iraq, which has been so solid to this point, has now been left out hanging to dry.

    To suggest that there’s any neighborhood in this city where an American can walk freely is beyond ludicrous. I’d love Senator McCain to tell me where that neighborhood is and he and I can go for a stroll.

    And to think that General David Petraeus travels this city in an unarmed Humvee. I mean in the hour since Senator McCain has said this, I’ve spoken to some military sources and there was laughter down the line. I mean, certainly, the general travels in a Humvee. There’s multiple Humvees around it, heavily armed. There’s attack helicopters, predator drones, sniper teams, all sorts of layers of protection.

    So, no, Senator McCain is way off base on this one — Wolf.

  5. More important context (from that same CNN transcript):

    BLITZER: “There are neighborhoods in Baghdad where you and I could walk through those neighborhoods today.”

    MCCAIN: Yes.

    BLITZER: “The U.S. is beginning to succeed in Iraq.”

    You know, everything we hear, that if you leave the so-called green zone, the international zone, and you go outside of that secure area, relatively speaking, you’re in trouble if you’re an American.

    MCCAIN: You know, that’s why you ought to catch up on things, Wolf.

    General Petraeus goes out there almost every day in an unarmed Humvee. You want to — I think you ought to catch up. You see, you are giving the old line of three months ago. I understand it. We certainly don’t get it through the filter of some of the media.

    But I know for a fact of much of the success we’re experiencing, including the ability of Americans in many parts — not all. We’ve got a long, long way to go. We’ve only got two of the five brigades there — to go into some neighborhoods in Baghdad in a secure fashion.

  6. Let me summarize, correct me where I misspeak:

    1. McCain doesn’t say it’s safe to go to that market with massive escort, and implies that wasn’t true before.
    2. He says things are getting better on some metric, though there’s still much to do.
    3. He says there are some specific areas that one could walk through. I find it hard to believe he could have just visited there and be wrong about this, unless he’s an idiot, which I doubt. It’s possible he’s lying, which would be very disappointing, but good to know.

    Do you take issue his characterization of any of these? It seems that the NYT says it’s a sham, and I wasn’t clear if your use of Potemkin was expressing the NYT view, yours, or both.

    The good news is that he’s going out on a limb making such a specific claim (#3) that is contrary to what so many others are saying, that there’s a good chance that if he’s unworthy, we’ll find out in short order. I think he’ll be asked many times in the days ahead to clarify, which he’ll either be able to do successfully – or not.

  7. I just listened to the Bill Bennett radio show and it sounded pretty straightforward. Bennett asked for some evidence that things are improving in Iraq and McCain rattled of 6 or 7 things including

    “There are neighborhoods in Baghdad where you and I could walk through those neighborhoods today.”

    I think he was implying that there were areas that you or I (John & Bill) could walk through. He was certainly wrong – according to the ample testimony that has surfaced in the following days. So we are left to decide whether he was lying or he was an idiot.

    A third option is that he thought he was speaking among friends and that they (people on the right of the republican party) would understand the gist of his message without looking into the facts.

    It would be harsh to call that a lie…but where he got into trouble was to try to defend the statement to a more critical audience like the reporters who live in Baghdad…

    WARE: I can answer this very quickly, Wolf. No. No way on earth can a westerner, particularly an American, stroll any street of this capital of more than five million people.

    …or to accuse those reporters of mis-representing the facts…

    BLITZER: “The U.S. is beginning to succeed in Iraq.”

    You know, everything we hear, that if you leave the so-called green zone, the international zone, and you go outside of that secure area, relatively speaking, you’re in trouble if you’re an American.

    MCCAIN: You know, that’s why you ought to catch up on things, Wolf.
    General Petraeus goes out there almost every day in an unarmed Humvee. You want to — I think you ought to catch up. You see, you are giving the old line of three months ago. I understand it. We certainly don’t get it through the filter of some of the media.

    …or when his fellow travellers tried to back him up…

    “Like a normal outdoor market in Indiana in the summertime”

    That’s when he crossed the line from rose-tinted optimism to propaganda and I join you in hoping that he will account for himself.

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