Monday, April 02, 2007

McCain: Painting Smiley Faces on the Corpses

The background: Senator John McCain (R-AZ) wants to be president, very badly. Unfortunately, McCain was on record supporting a US troop surge in Iraq a long time before President Bush was seriously considering it. And then Bush went ahead and DID it--apparently just to screw McCain's presidential chances. Because the surge wasn't going to work and everyone--including Bush and McCain--knew that it wasn't going to work when they proposed and did it.

So now McCain's really f'd; to have any chance at all of getting the GOP nomination, he's got to convince the American people that "his" troop surge/escalation idea is improving conditions in Baghdad--even if it isn't. And that's how we got here:

April 3, 2007

BAGHDAD, April 2 — A day after members of an American Congressional delegation led by Senator John McCain pointed to their brief visit to Baghdad’s central market as evidence that the new security plan for the city was working, the merchants there were incredulous about the Americans’ conclusions.

“What are they talking about?” Ali Jassim Faiyad, the owner of an electrical appliances shop in the market, said Monday. “The security procedures were abnormal!”

The delegation arrived at the market, which is called Shorja, on Sunday with more than 100 soldiers in armored Humvees — the equivalent of an entire company — and attack helicopters circled overhead, a senior American military official in Baghdad said. The soldiers redirected traffic from the area and restricted access to the Americans, witnesses said, and sharpshooters were posted on the roofs. The congressmen wore bulletproof vests throughout their hourlong visit.

“They paralyzed the market when they came,” Mr. Faiyad said during an interview in his shop on Monday. “This was only for the media.”

(Oh, and if it's only for the media, that doesn't "count" for you, Mr. Faiyad? The media's got to shop, too, mister. Complain, complain, complain, "they're paralyzing the market, with their attack helicopters and train of armored humvees," whine, whine, whine...)

He added, “This will not change anything.”

At a news conference shortly after their outing, Mr. McCain, an Arizona Republican, and his three Congressional colleagues described Shorja as a safe, bustling place full of hopeful and warmly welcoming Iraqis — “like a normal outdoor market in Indiana in the summertime,” offered Representative Mike Pence, an Indiana Republican who was a member of the delegation.

(Well, if that's what Congressman Pence considers "normal," I guess that I'm NOT going to go to the Indiana State Fair this year. I live in Minnesota; we don't wear flak jackets and bring along our own sniper teams just so we can buy a corn dog and watch the tractor pull and the pig races.)

But the market that the congressmen said they saw is fundamentally different from the market Iraqis know.

Merchants and customers say that a campaign by insurgents to attack Baghdad’s markets has put many shop owners out of business and forced radical changes in the way people shop. Shorja, the city’s oldest and largest market, set in a sprawling labyrinth of narrow streets and alleyways, has been bombed at least a half-dozen times since last summer.

At least 61 people were killed and many more wounded in a three-pronged attack there on Feb. 12 involving two vehicle bombs and a roadside bomb.

American and Iraqi security forces have tried to protect Shorja and other markets against car bombs by restricting vehicular traffic in some shopping areas and erecting blast walls around the markets’ perimeters. But those measures, while making the markets safer, have not made them safe.

(Damn right. That's why I never shop at any mall that's surrounded by a "blast wall." Sure, you pay a little more at the hotel gift shop, but if the alternative is getting those "low low prices" but having your incinerated body hung up on a bridge for display--)

In the latest large-scale attack on a Baghdad market, at least 60 people, most of them women and children, were killed last Thursday when a man wrapped in an explosives belt walked around such barriers into a crowded street market in the Shaab neighborhood and blew himself up.

In recent weeks, snipers hidden in Shorja’s bazaar have killed several people, merchants and the police say, and gunfights have erupted between militants and the Iraqi security forces in the area.

("Attention, K-Mart shoppers! Get the fuck down!")

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.

(Well that's no way to attract business. Tell the customers that we could all be cut down at any moment? Imagine if they announced that over the loudspeaker at Walmart.)

“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. He said he sold a small prayer rug worth less than $1 to Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the American forces in Iraq, who accompanied the Congressional delegation. (General Petraeus paid $20 and told Mr. Kadhoury to keep the change, the vendor said.)

(General Petraeus is no dope; he ain't gonna hang around and haggle. He's commander of the ground forces, he knows the score. Get in, get the souvenir, get the fuck out of there. You don't want them to get a bead on you while you're arguing over a couple of bucks. "But General Petraeus, you can get that same rug for dollar at the hotel"--" "Fuck it! We got the photo, we're bugging out! Move!" "But your change--" Petraeus:(already half way down the block, shouts back):"Tell him to keep it! We're sitting ducks out here!(to the driver) How do you get the goddamn windows up in this thing?")

Mr. Kadhoury said he lost more than $2,000 worth of merchandise in the triple bombing in February. “I was hit in the head and back with shrapnel,” he recalled.

(Shut up, you're lucky to be alive. Next stall, let's keep it moving, fellas.)

Ali Youssef, 39, who sells glassware from a sidewalk stand down the block from Mr. Kadhoury, recalled: “Everybody complained to them. We told them we were harmed.”

He and other merchants used to keep their shops open until dusk, but with the dropoff in customers as a result of the attacks, and a nightly curfew, most shop owners close their businesses in the early afternoon.

“This area here is very dangerous,” continued Mr. Youssef, who lost his shop in the February attack. “They cannot secure it.”

(Ah, what does he know. They blow up the guy's glassware stand, he and his wife are picking shards out of each others asses for three weeks, and this guy thinks it's the end of the world. It's not. Get with the McCain program, bud, he says it's safe. The US can help you, but first you have to help Youssef. Next stall, come on, they know we're here, keep moving, moving, moving--)

But those conversations were not reflected in the congressmen’s comments at the news conference on Sunday.

Instead, the politicians spoke of strolling through the marketplace, haggling with merchants and drinking tea. “The most deeply moving thing for me was to mix and mingle unfettered,” Mr. Pence said.

("Unfettered?" I don't know about you, Congressman Pence, but when I go shopping, I leave my armed escort of a hundred soldiers, bulletproof vest, attack helicopters, and sniper teams at home.)

Mr. McCain was asked about a comment he made on a radio program in which he said that he could walk freely through certain areas of Baghdad.

“I just came from one,” he replied sharply. “Things are better and there are encouraging signs.”

(He was there an hour and he didn't get killed; that's very encouraging.)

He added, “Never have I been able to go out into the city as I was today.”

(Wow! What he's claiming is that last time he was in Baghdad it was so bad he couldn't even run down to the store WITH a hundred soldiers around him, a bulletproof vest, a string of attack helicopters, and a team of snipers sizing up the crowd. In a convoy of armored Humvees.)

Told about Mr. McCain’s assessment of the market, Abu Samer, a kitchenware and clothing wholesaler, scoffed: “He is just using this visit for publicity. He is just using it for himself. They’ll just take a photo of him at our market and they will just show it in the United States. He will win in America and we will have nothing.”

(Hey...who tipped this guy off about McCain's strategy? He's selling shorts in a Baghdad market and he knows more about Republican politics than any American who calls in to conservative talk radio? They should get this guy to host Meet the Press; he's got to cheaper than Russert was and it's obvious he knows more.)

A Senate spokeswoman for Mr. McCain said he left Iraq on Monday and was unavailable for comment because he was traveling.

(You bet he was. He was moving pretty fast when he left, too. He left T-shirts and luggage behind at the hotel, too, I bet. McCain's cynical, he ain't stupid.)

Several merchants said Monday that the Americans’ visit might have only made the market a more inviting target for insurgents.

“Every time the government announces anything — that the electricity is good or the water supply is good — the insurgents come to attack it immediately,” said Abu Samer, 49, who would give only his nickname out of concern for his safety.

(I don't blame him, I wouldn't give my real name either. I wouldn't even give a Muslim name, I'd say my name was "Skippy the Bush Kangaroo" if they wanted a quote from me for the NYT. The good news is: if you know that they're going to attack every time the Americans talk about how great things are, you at least have a "heads-up": if it's 2:30 pm on a business day and the government announces that the electricity's going back on at 6 p.m., you treat that announcement like it's a goddam air raid siren, that's your cue to fold up the tent and stall ASAP, Abdul, and get your wristwatches and hash pipes and "I've been to Baghdad" coffee mugs in the bag and then get your Shi'ite ass out of that market, not now, now ten seconds ago, but YESTERDAY, Abdul! Beat the rush! And if they tell you the sewer system's working again--run, you motherfucker, run!)

But even though he was fearful of a revenge attack, he said, he could not afford to stay away from the market. This was his livelihood. “We can never anticipate when they will attack,” he said, his voice heavy with gloomy resignation. “This is not a new worry.”

(But McCain told him things are getting better, and I guess he's entitled to his opinion. It would have sounded more convincing if he wasn't wearing that bulletproof jacket when he said it.)



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