McCain Visit Angers Some Iraqis

U.S. Republican Senator from Arizona and a presidential hopeful John McCain speaks during a press conference at the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, Sunday, April 1, 2007. AP Photo/Sabah Arar

Iraqis in the capital said Tuesday that Sen. John McCain's account of a heavily guarded visit to a central market did not represent the current reality in Baghdad, with one calling it "propaganda."

Jaafar Moussa Thamir, a 42-year-old who sells electrical appliances at the Shorja market that the Republican congressmen visited on Sunday, said the delegation greeted some fellow vendors with Arabic phrases but he was not impressed.

"They were just making fun of us and paid this visit just for their own interests," he said. "Do they think that when they come and speak few Arabic words in a very bad manner it will make us love them? This country and its society have been destroyed because of them and I hope that they realized that during this visit."

Leading a congressional delegation to Baghdad's oldest market over the weekend, Sen. McCain praised the safety of the city since the American troop surge, reports Martin Seemungal for CBS News.

But according to someone who was actually with the delegation, that sense of security required a massive military operation: dozens of U.S soldiers, snipers, and helicopters hovering overhead.

The shopkeepers were back Monday, adds Seemungal, but they confirmed that Sen. McCain's delegation could never have come here without heavy security.

McCain, a Republican presidential hopeful who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, said he was "cautiously optimistic" after riding with other members of a Republican congressional delegation from Baghdad's airport Sunday in armored vehicles under heavy guard to visit Shorja.

The market has been hit by bombings including a February attack that killed 137 people. The delegation said the trips were proof that security was improving in the capital.

McCain acknowledged a difficult task lies ahead in Iraq, but he insisted a U.S.-Iraqi security plan was working, citing a recent drop in execution-style sectarian killings, the establishment of security posts throughout the city and Sunni tribal efforts against al Qaeda in the western Anbar province.

"These and other indicators are reason for cautious, very cautious optimism about the effects of the new strategy," the Arizona senator said.

The congressmen, who wore body armor during their hour-long shopping excursion at the Shorja market, said they were touched by the resilience and warmth of the Iraqi people, some of whom would not take money for their souvenirs.

The delegation was accompanied by the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, and followed his lead in taking off their helmets as they bought souvenirs and drank tea.

"I didn't care about him, I even turned my eyes away," Thamir said. "We are being killed by the dozens every day because of them. What were they trying to tell us? They are just pretenders."

Karim Abdullah, a 37-year-old textile merchant, said the congressmen were kept under tight security and accompanied by dozens of U.S. troops.

"They were laughing and talking to people as if there was nothing going on in this country or at least they were pretending that they were tourists and were visiting the city's old market and buying souvenirs," he said. "To achieve this, they sealed off the area, put themselves in flak jackets and walked in the middle of tens of armed American soldiers."

But Abdullah applauded the congressmen for venturing out of the heavily guarded Green Zone, which houses the U.S. and British embassies as well as Iraqi government offices.

"Although these U.S. officials were using this visit for their propaganda to tell the Americans 'we are gaining progress here, don't worry,' it left a kind of good impression with some of us," he said. "They are at least better than Iraqi officials who never venture out their Green Zone to talk to normal people and see their problems. I hope that this visit will encourage Iraqi officials to leave their fortified houses inside the Green Zone."

McCain and fellow Republicans Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Representative Mike Pence of Indiana and Rep. Rick Renzi of Arizona traveled Monday to Anbar province, a Sunni insurgent stronghold west of Baghdad that also is part of the security crackdown to which President Bush has committed some 30,000 extra troops.

The congressmen met with provincial police as well as Sheik Abdul Sattar al-Rishawi, who is leading a growing movement of Sunni tribesmen who have turned against al Qaeda-linked insurgents in Anbar, the military said in a statement issued Tuesday.

In other developments:

  • Citing improved security in the capital, the Iraqi government said Tuesday it was shortening the Baghdad curfew by two hours and would allow citizens to be on the streets until 10 p.m. Violence in the capital has declined since the latest U.S.-Iraqi joint security operation began on Feb. 14, though there have been spectacular attacks. But bloodshed has increased elsewhere in Iraq after insurgents and militiamen moved operations out of the capital in advance of the security crackdown.

  • A U.S. Marine was killed in combat in Iraq's volatile Anbar province, the military said on Tuesday. The Marine, assigned to Multi National Force-West, was killed Monday, the military statement said. It gave no further details and said the Marine's name was withheld until family was notified.

  • A senior Iraqi foreign ministry official said on Tuesday that the government was "intensively" seeking release of five Iranians detained by the U.S. military more than two months ago in northern Iraq. "We are intensively seeking the release of the five Iranians," the senior official said. "This will be a factor that will help in the release of the British sailors and marines'' held by Iran since March 25.
    • James Klatell

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