... Neighborhoods in Baghdad are safer. They're not safe, but they are safer than they were before.
MR. RUSSERT: You made a lot of news back in April when you went to Iraq. You went on a radio show and said never--had a news conference, "never been able to go out in the city as I was today." And then later these photographs were released, where we saw--(clears throat) excuse me--John McCain in the marketplace, surrounded, wearing a flack jacket. The next day the papers said that, "A day after members of an American congressional delegation led by Senator John McCain pointed to their brief visit" in "Baghdad's central Market as evidence that the new security plan for the city was working, the merchants were incredulous about" "Americans' conclusions. `What are they talking about?'" "the owner of an electrical supply shop said. `The security procedures were abnormal.' The delegation arrived at the market" "more than 100 soldiers in armored humvees--the equivalent of an entire company," "attack helicopters circled overhead, a senior" "military official in Baghdad said. The soldiers redirected traffic from the area" "restricted access to the American." "The congressmen wore bulletproof vests" through the hour-long visit. `They paralyzed the market when they came,'" "`This was only for the media.'"
SEN. McCAIN: Well, I don't...
MR. RUSSERT: Wasn't that...
SEN. McCAIN: ...I don't know who Mr. Faiyad is, and I'm sorry that I didn't see him. I talked with many, many of the merchants. We stayed there for more, more than an hour. That same place was not a functioning market a short time before. A bomb had gone off in that area and killed many, many people. There, there was a group of people that I talked to, as I traveled--walked around that, that shopping area for over an hour who said, "I'm glad to see you. Things are better." They--some--a guy came and complained about a sniper that, that they'd had problems with, and the police chief we talked to about that.
My point is the neighborhoods are safer. They are not safe. That's why we have to continue what we're doing. We have a new strategy that, that can succeed. I was glad to walk through that market. I will go walk through a market as often as I can. It was not allowed to go through a market a short time before that.
MR. RUSSERT: But, senator, you had an armed escort.
SEN. McCAIN: I had an armed escort because, because that's what General Petraeus thought we ought to have. I was glad to go outside of Baghdad and have over an hour opportunity to talk to the people that I talked to. Now, they are very different from the people that, that you are quoting here and others. They said, "I'm glad to see you. Things are better here. We have, we have seen improvement." That's what I was told, and that's what the other two members of Congress were told when we were there. You can find a lot of difference of opinion if you want to, but I believe that it's important for me to go out and meet those people if I can and be around them. I didn't call for the kind of, quote, "protection" that was around me. But I am not afraid, and I'm glad to go any place that I can to talk to the people of Iraq and tell them of my commitment to see that they have a free, democratic government where they don't have to face the bombs going off and the suicide bombers and the--and can start leading normal lives. And I'll do that every chance I get.
MR. RUSSERT: But the military felt you needed that protection, and the number of suicide bombers has gone up since the surge began.
SEN. McCAIN: The military--the suicide bombers have gone up because they know that this is probably the most effective way publicitywise. It's not the most effective way if you're talking about winning a conflict. Suicide bombers are the most difficult of any to counter, people who are willing to take their own lives in order to take others'. You can ask the Israelis; I think they'll tell you that. They have literally sealed their borders, and yet suicide bombers get across. And again, is this long and hard and difficult? Is that market safe? No, but it's safer than it was before. And that, in my view, is the key to whether we will succeed or fail or not. And I'll be glad to go back to that market with or without military protection and, and humvees, etc. But the fact is, I walked through narrow streets. I didn't have people all around me. I don't know what, what--where they get their information, but I was glad to walk around and talk to people and have contact with them and tell them that I, as an American, will do everything I can to let them lead the normal lives which are God-given rights to everybody on earth.
Compare and contrast McCain's view of security in Iraq to CNN correspondent Michael Holmes' report on Saturday:
FOREMAN: Only minutes after he arrived back in Baghdad, CNN International anchor Michael Holmes was covering a full-scale fire fight.
For the next month, Holmes and his team of photojournalists recorded everything that happened, giving us a very personal look at a very tough story.
And Michael joins us from the CNN Center in Atlanta now. Thanks for being here, Michael. Let me ask you this. When I look at your work, it implies a world where doing almost anything is exceedingly difficult, let alone being a journalist.
MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Yeah. It's become very hard to do anything in Iraq. As you know, in Baghdad, I feel sorry for ordinary Iraqis who are frightened to go to work, who are frightened to send their kids to school.
One interesting thing during this month, I was out a lot with the U.S. military embedded because that's really the only safe way to get out and about. I probably asked 100 people if they sent their kids to school. Not one said yes.
So when you talk about reconstruction and fixing up schools and the like, that's great, but not many kids are going.
FOREMAN: Some of your work has some really rather terrifying details in it. I want to run a little clip now about some of the concerns about personal danger there in Baghdad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOLMES (voice-over): When I first started going to Baghdad which is right, you know, during the war, at the end of the war, we would walk around the streets and talk to people and interview people and go to restaurants and stuff. But now you can't. That's just the way Baghdad is now.
And so really, the only way we can get contact with local people is to use our own Iraqi staff and they are fantastic and risk their lives for us every day.
FOREMAN: Obviously with journalists being targets in all of this, and obviously westerners being targets in all of this, do you worry that or do you have a sense that anybody is leading a normal life or a seemingly normal life in Baghdad?
HOLMES: Well, certainly not in Baghdad, no. And you are right. I've covered about five wars now. And this is the first war that I've covered where, A, there's no front lines. The bad guys don't wear uniforms and we are considered high-valued targets.
I mean, journalists have often been collateral damage, if you like, in conflicts, but we are high-value targets to insurgents and in particular al Qaeda. There is no real safe area of Baghdad, despite what we've heard politicians say before.
And I have heard politicians often say that it's only a couple of isolated areas where there is this level of violence. That's true. That's absolutely true, but it's like saying to Americans, you know, 2,000 to 3,000 people a month die in Kansas and California, but hey, the rest of the country's fine. So it's a bit of are specious argument. But Baghdad itself, it is as risky as it's ever been. More so.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it (tm), is to decide whether McCain (the man who spent a couple of myopic hours in Baghdad surrounded by his armed escorts) or Holmes (the reporter who's spent a considerable amount of time over there since the war began) is telling the truth.
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