By: Greg Mitchell
If Sen. John McCain?s campaign for the GOP nomination gets seriously derailed by his dangerously absurd visit to Baghdad market on Sunday he can blame the press for that. Unwilling to play tourist during McCain’s open-air stroll, reporters quickly revealed the extraordinary security that surrounded this purported “typical day” at the Shorja market.
Then, over the next two days, they went back and interviewed some of the merchants, who have thoroughly repudiated the sunny accounts of the visit offered by McCain and his congressional sidekicks.
In short order, McCain went from the ridiculous to the maligned.
But the most revealing and chilling episode featured Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.). He was widely quoted in the initial accounts declaring that he found the Shorja bazaar ?like a normal outdoor market in Indiana in the summertime.” Pence later described one rug merchant who kept patting his heart and refused to take his money: ?His eyes, like so many others, radiated with affection and appreciation.? Pence said he was ?deeply moved” by this.
Well, a National Public Radio reporter returned and found that grateful merchant?and uncovered a quite different story. The carpet seller, Ahmed al-Kurdi, recalled for NPR: “I didn’t accept the money. I said to myself, ‘they must be guests, so I must give them a good impression of Iraqis.’ After all, we are occuped by these Americans — and they are accompanied by a lot of U.S. security.”
Al-Kurdi then said that actually he favored the insurgents: ?We are not against the resistance. We are with them. However, he who claims to be with the resistance must fight the occupiers, not the Iraqi people. A huge number of U.S forces came yesterday. Why didn’t they shoot at them — instead of harming us??
So: Maybe patting the heart was a secret signal to open fire on visiting Americans?
The NPR reporter talked to another merchant who said he always keeps an employee stationed outside his shop to watch for cars carrying suicide bombers heading their way. Just like in Indiana?
Well, at least Rep. Pence got a good deal on those rugs.
It turns out snipers did open fire at the market shortly after McCain and friends left. Then it emerged today in press reports that 21 workers or merchants in that same market had been found bound and executed north of Baghdad. Was this a retaliatory action or just a example of a REAL ?typical day? in Iraq?
On Tuesday, The New York Times and other news outlets published the results of their own interviews with merchants at that market, almost uniformly hostile to McCain or his views. The Washington Post added its own quotes in the same vein today, plus some startling statistics on violence in Iraq in this supposedly improving ?surge? environment.
New morgue statistics obtained by the Post ?paint a more complicated picture and underscore the country’s precarious security environment,? the paper revealed. ?U.S. and Iraqi forces launched the security offensive in February. In March, violent deaths dropped in Baghdad, according to Iraqi morgue and police statistics. But violence rose elsewhere in Iraq, fueled largely by suicide bombings….
“The number of Iraqi policemen killed across Iraq nearly doubled from 171 in February to 331 in March, according to Interior Ministry statistics. Meanwhile, the numbers of unidentified bodies found across Baghdad are rising again, suggesting an increase in sectarian-motivated death squad killings.?
A U.S. military official on Tuesday described McCain’s comments about Baghdad’s safety as “a bit of hyperbole,” according to the Post. “Things are indeed better in Baghdad, for now,” he asserted. “It’s just a very fragile situation that could turn at any moment.”
The Post pictured a merchant at the market named Hassan shutting down his shop early, 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,” the Post reported. “Around the warren of shops in Shorja market, he was considered lucky. ?They usually ask for ransom, and then behead the hostage,? said Hassan.”