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Visiting Iraq, McCain Cites Progress on Safety Issues
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."
Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, led the tour through the market. Petraeus took off his helmet and put on a soft hat, and instructed the politicians to do the same, Pence said. But he acknowledged they left their protective vests on.
Amir Raheem, 32 , a floor carpeting merchant at the Shorja market, disagreed with the upbeat assessment of the congressional visitors. "Just yesterday, an Iraqi soldier was shot in his shoulder by a sniper, and the day before, two civilians were shot by a sniper as well," he said.
He said Sunni insurgents routinely clashed with Shiite militiamen or with Iraqi soldiers and policemen in the area. "Everybody closes their shops by 2:30 p.m.," Raheem said.
Although the congressional delegation reported seeing crowds of Iraqis shopping in the market, Raheem said the number represented a sliver of the customers he used to see. "It is not even 10 percent of our work before the bombings, because people are afraid to come," he said.
Worse, he said, the closure of the main street by barriers has affected his business. If it was so safe, he said, "let them open the street, for the market has died since they put them there."
On Sunday, he said, U.S. soldiers were present in large numbers during the congressional visit and would not let customers "even cross the street to the other side."
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.
"General Petraeus goes downtown almost every day," McCain said. "Of course, he has protection, and we had protection today. Things are getting better in Iraq, and I am pleased with the progress that has been made."
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.