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A little stroll in Baghdad

After his heavily guarded market visit the other day (100 American soldiers, with three Blackhawk helicopters, two Apache gunships overhead, hidden snipers and bulletproof vests were needed) to show us “proof that you could indeed ‘walk freely’ in some areas of Baghdad” after Dear Leader’s surge, I think the Tool McCain needs to pack it in. He has zero credibility.

You know it’s bad when the McCain 2008 web site features a link to the WaPo article on his visit, only including an excerpt that leaves out all the details of the carnage in Iraq covered in the rest of the article. Man, he couldn’t even link to Faux News, which has a piece on the trip that is just as scathing.

McCain, R-Ariz., was combative during the news conference, refusing to respond to a question about whether the U.S. had plans to attack Iran. He also replied testily to a question about remarks he had made in the United States last week that it was safe to walk some Baghdad streets.

About that testiness, look at this report, from Michael Ware of CNN, which aired during AC 360 last night. It’s after the flip.

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For presidential candidate Senator John McCain, walking Baghdad’s Shorja market is a sure sign of change.

He and the congressional delegation he led spent an hour Sunday talking to Iraqis and buying carpets. But theirs was anything but an everyday experience — around them, more than 100 U.S. soldiers locking down the area, keeping out traffic and pedestrians, overhead, two Apache gunships, hidden around the market, U.S. sniper teams.

…SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The American people are not getting the full picture of what’s happening here. They’re not getting the full picture of the drop in murders, the establishment of security outposts throughout the city, the situation in Anbar Province, the deployment of additional Iraqi brigades, who are performing well, and other progress — signs of progress that are having been made.

WARE: Progress, but still far from victory, said the senator, with a long, difficult struggle and much more violence ahead. Indeed, on the day his congressional delegation made its P.R. visit to the Baghdad market, across the country, six American troops and a British soldier were killed, 15 Iraqi soldiers died in a truck bombing in Mosul, a police officer in Diyala Province was killed by a hidden bomb, and three civilians blown part in another market.

And, back in Baghdad, the same morning of the congressional visit, Iraqi police found 17 bullet-riddled bodies on the city streets. With Baghdad morgues still overflowing with grieving relatives, the senator’s point is that the daily sectarian death toll is down from just months ago.

Yet, outside the capital, sectarian violence is unabated, 19 tortured bodies found in Diyala Province Monday morning. And, in the border town of Tal Afar, praised by President Bush as a model of U.S. success, reclaimed from al Qaeda, Iraqi officials say suicide bombings one day last week slaughtered 152 mainly Shia Muslims, prompting some officers in the Shia-dominated police to execute up to 70 Sunni Muslims later that night.

It’s this violence Senator McCain hopes more U.S. soldiers can stop, even though more Iraqis died in March than in February. Just last week, the senator claimed reinforcements had already made parts of Baghdad so safe, an American could now walk them, something even an Iraqi journalist had to question.

QUESTION: I have just read on the Internet that you said there are areas in Baghdad that you can walk around freely.

MCCAIN: Yes, I just was — came from one.

QUESTION: Pardon me?

MCCAIN: I just came from one.

QUESTION: Yes. And which areas would that be?

MCCAIN: Sir, what I said was — what I said was that there is encouraging signs and that things are better.

I mean really, how do you square McCain, SC Sen. Lindsay Graham and Rep. Mike Pence’s Great $5 Rug Shopping Spree (Graham: “I bought five rugs for five bucks.”) with these grim stats:

The Iraqi Government says it is in a race to keep the people from reaching a “level of despair” after suicide bombers, gunmen and militiamen fought back ferociously in the seventh week of the Baghdad security crackdown, killing at least 507 people in the last six days.

…The new US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, issued a statement blaming al-Qaeda for the week’s first major suicide attack, a twin truck bombing that killed 80 people and wounded 185 in Tal Afar, in the country’s far north-west.

McCain’s PR stunt was so ridiculous that NBC Iraq correspondent Tom Aspell couldn’t resist jabbing at his ludicrous shopping excursion. He said that with the protection McCain and Co. had, “even Paris Hilton could ride a bicycle in a bikini through Anbar province.” See it on video at Think Progress.

Back to CNN’s Michael Ware.

WARE: Just seven weeks ago, this was the market where McCain went shopping — three separate bombs minutes apart, 79 lives lost, the market’s fifth attack since last summer.

And, while there hasn’t been a bombing here since, it may be just as well Senator McCain’s delegation had heavy protection. According to the Reuters News Agency, the market was hit just 24 hours later with sniper fire, a regular event, locals say, with about one person cut down each day — the senator’s visit perhaps highlighting more than he intended, that, in war, as in politics, perception so often is reality.

ROBERTS: Now, take a look at a couple of the issues here, Michael. You said in your report that the senator didn’t do anything at the Shorja market that hadn’t been done before. And that is to go out in the streets, with heavy protection, snipers on the rooftops, lots of armed men surrounding you, and really didn’t do anything to highlight the progress that has been made as a result of the surge.

If he wanted to highlight that progress, what should he have done, in your estimation?

WARE: Well, I think there are a couple of relatively simple things, yet very poignant things, that could be done.

For example, he doesn’t even have to come to Iraq. He could visit exiles from Iraq who are sheltering in Jordan, for example, and ask them, are you going home? Has the surge made you feel more confident? Or, indeed, here in Baghdad, if he wants to venture out of the comfort of the Green Zone, go somewhere real. Go to one of these camps where the displaced are sheltering, these people who have been driven from their homes by racial ethnic cleansing or sectarian cleansing. Ask them, are you ready to go home?

Or, even still, visit a Baghdad morgue. See if there is a decline. Talk to the people there, where their emotions are stripped bare, and they’re not confronted by a politician surrounded by soldiers with guns in a marketplace.

Ouch. Buh-bye, Tool.

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Pam Spaulding

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