By: E&P STaff
Sen. John McCain’s heavily guarded visit to a Baghdad market on Sunday — which he seemed a safe zone — drew unusually strong critical or cynical commentary from the American media. Now the locals have weighed in with much the same response.
Less than a day after the visit, the market came under sniper fire. Even before then, “the merchants there were incredulous about the Americans? conclusions,” The New York Times reports on Tuesday.
?What are they talking about?? Ali Jassim Faiyad, the owner of an electrical appliances shop in the market, told Kirk Semple. ?The security procedures were abnormal!…
?They paralyzed the market when they came. This was only for the media.?
He added, ?This will not change anything.?
Rep. Mike Pence, another member of the delegation, had even called it ?like a normal outdoor market in Indiana in the summertime.” Semple notes that the Shoria market “has been bombed at least a half-dozen times since last summer….
“During their visit on Sunday, the Americans were buttonholed by merchants and customers who wanted to talk about how unsafe they felt and the urgent need for more security in the markets and throughout the city, witnesses said. ‘They asked about our conditions, and we told them the situation was bad,’ said Aboud Sharif Kadhoury, 63, who peddles prayer rugs at a sidewalk stand.”
The Associated Press carried the following dispatch on Tuesday.
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.”
Thamir said “about 150 U.S. soldiers and 20 Humvees” accompanied the delegation.
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….
“I didn’t care about him, I even turned my eyes away,” Thamir said. “We are being killed by the dozens everyday 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.”