Visiting Iraq, McCain Cites Progress on Safety Issues

By Sudarsan Raghavan and Saad al-Izzi
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, April 2, 2007

BAGHDAD, April 1 -- 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. "But I am not saying 'Mission Accomplished.' . . . It's a very difficult task ahead of us."

His comments came on a day when the military reported that six American soldiers had been killed by roadside bombs southwest of Baghdad. Murder rates are down, but suicide bombings continue to plague the capital, and violence in other parts of Iraq is surging. At least 152 people were killed last week in twin truck bombings that targeted Shiites in Tall Afar, according to the Interior Ministry, which would make the attack the deadliest since the U.S.-led invasion four years ago. The strike triggered reprisal attacks against Sunnis that left at least 45 dead.

The visit comes in the midst of a bitter political tussle over pulling U.S. forces out of Iraq. Both houses of Congress have passed legislation, which President Bush has vowed to veto, calling for deadlines for troop withdrawals. McCain and other congressional Republicans argue that timelines would undercut progress in Iraq. 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. In February, a truck bombing there killed 137 people and injured scores. Last month, a bomb exploded near a Shiite mosque in the market, killing eight and wounding nearly three dozen.

"We were warmly welcomed," said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who was part of the delegation, along with Reps. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.). "I bought five rugs for five bucks. People were engaging."

"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 Pence.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company