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. â€œThe most deeply moving thing for me was to mix and mingle unfettered,â€ 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.
â€œI just came from one,â€ he replied sharply. â€œThings are better and there are encouraging signs.â€
He added, â€œNever have I been able to go out into the city as I was today.â€
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 â€” the equivalent of an entire company â€” 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.
â€œThey paralyzed the market when they came,â€ Mr. Faiyad said during an interview in his shop on Monday. â€œThis was only for the media.â€
… 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 Baghdadâ€™s markets has put many shop owners out of business and forced radical changes in the way people shop. Shorja, the cityâ€™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 marketsâ€™ 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 Shorjaâ€™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…