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Sum of Death Statistics: a Perilous Iraq
In Shorja market -- where McCain and three other congressional Republicans went Sunday for one hour -- most shops were shuttered on Tuesday by 2:30 p.m. They included the carpet shops where Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said he bought "five rugs for five bucks."
Thin crowds walked the street, which was fortified by concrete barriers and razor wire. Iraqi soldiers in a Humvee were positioned at one end of the street.
Another member of the delegation, Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), declared that it was "like a normal outdoor market in Indiana in the summertime."
But merchants on Tuesday said they fear for their lives, despite the drop in killings in Baghdad last month reflected in the morgue data.
They said that the only reason McCain and his delegation could stroll through Shorja market was because of the heavy security that accompanied their visit. Scores of U.S. soldiers in combat gear had cordoned off both sides of the street, their armored Humvees parked nearby, the merchants said. Military helicopters hovered above the rooftops. The visitors wore bulletproof vests on the recently fortified area that now bans vehicle traffic.
"The force was extraordinary," said Hassan al-Aghaedi, Ahmad's brother. His other brother Ayad, he recalled, told members of the delegation: "Once you closed the road, the economic center of Baghdad died."
Ahmad pointed at a small wad of bills on his table and said: "That's all we made today, 10,000 dinars," the equivalent of about $7.75.
"Before, we made 1 million dinars a day," said Hassan. "People are afraid to come here. There have been lots of bombings."
"This was all done just for the media," said Ahmad, referring to McCain's visit. "Security means being able to open the street up, to move freely, to be open until late at night."
As they spoke, they were shutting down their shop, worried about the threat of kidnapping. About two weeks ago, thugs entered a neighboring shop at around this time, handcuffed the owner and took all his money. Around the warren of shops in Shorja market, he was considered lucky.
"They usually ask for ransom, and then behead the hostage," said Hassan.
As he stepped outside his shop, he pointed to a green pedestrian bridge, near a charred, bomb-shattered building, and said: "If you go in that direction you'll be kidnapped."