Reporter's Notebook: Not McCain's Iraq

In view of the death toll it's a terrible thing to say, but for this reporter, the most depressing sight in a five week rotation in Baghdad was paper swirling in a roiling black cloud.

The bomb tore apart the old book market — where in the 1990s we used to go for tea — and along with it a sense of Iraq's culture and glorious past.

Another telling perspective was from inside an armored Humvee. No Iraqi smiles or waves at military convoys any more — a view lost on the latest VIP to see Iraq in domestic political terms.

"The American people are not getting the full picture of what's happening here," Sen. John McCain said on his recent trip to Baghdad. "They're not getting the full picture of the drop in murders, the establishment of security outposts throughout the city and other signs of progress having been made."

After a staged walkabout that required massive security, Sen. McCain did the time-honored politician's back-track, and said he "misspoke" about how well things were going.

In fact, some things are improving. Being able to walk around in the normally perilous suburb of Sadr City was a pleasant and unexpected surprise. But it was also deceptive.

A car bomb there last week killed ten people and wounded dozens.

It came in spite of the centerpiece of "the surge": American troops and Iraqi forces together in the new Joint Security stations. The reinforced police posts reduce the soldier's exposure to IEDs, roadside bombs have caused 70 percent of U.S. casualties and make riding with the troops a nerve-wracking experience.

And that's just part of their grueling workload. A day spent with MPs patiently training Iraqis to take over security themselves made us wonder how the MPs find the will to get up every day and keep trying.

One soldier was assigned to be with us all the time, not to control our movements but to protect us.

It's hard to see progress when according to the Associated Press "an average of four U.S. soldiers died or were killed in each of the first five days of this month."