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A separate reality.

Byline: The Register-Guard

At some point on its journey from Washington, D.C., to Baghdad, Sen. John McCain's "Straight Talk Express" jumped the tracks and ended up somewhere over the rainbow.

McCain, whose military background and experience as a Vietnam prisoner of war has lent authority to his views on the Iraq war, didn't burnish his credibility during a press conference Sunday.

In a scene reminiscent of Baghdad Bob's famous televised announcement during the 2003 invasion that, "There is no presence of American infidels in the city of Baghdad" (as a U.S. tank rumbled by on camera just behind the Iraq minister of information), McCain cited his photo-op excursion to Baghdad's Shorja market as proof the new security plan for the city was working.

"Things are better and there are encouraging signs. I've been here ... many times over the years," McCain told a roomful of incredulous journalists. "Never have I been able to drive from the airport, never have I been able go out into the city as I was today."

Here's what it took for McCain to "go out into the city": an escort of more than 100 American soldiers on the ground covered by six Blackhawk and Apache helicopters overhead and sniper patrols on the rooftops. Traffic was diverted, access to the market was restricted and the surrounding area virtually was locked down.

McCain, a Republican presidential candidate, and his traveling companions - fellow Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Reps. Mike Pence, R-Ind., and Rick Renzi, R-Ariz. - donned body armor for the visit to Baghdad's central market and walked within a protective cordon of soldiers that was 30 deep in places.

McCain criticized the news media for failing to report the successes of President Bush's strategy to surge 30,000 additional troops into Baghdad in order to establish security in the capital. That's another observation worthy of Baghdad Bob. McCain must really mean that he objects to the news media continuing to report on the horrific violence occurring outside Baghdad in the same stories that acknowledge sectarian executions appear to have dropped significantly within the Baghdad city limits.

Even so, on the very day McCain offered his sunny assessment of the progress in Baghdad, 20 bullet-riddled bodies were found in the city, apparent victims of sectarian death squads. Admittedly, 20 is better than 50, which was the average number of bodies that were turning up each day before the surge.

But sectarian executions are only one aspect of the deadly mayhem occurring almost daily in Baghdad. Car and suicide bombings continue to devastate markets and public areas within the city, despite the new security initiative.

At least 60 people, most of them women and children, were killed by a suicide bomber March 29 in a street market in Baghdad's Shaab neighborhood. More than 600 Iraqis have been killed in sectarian violence since March 25, most in suicide bombings.

A suicide truck bombing in Tal Afar slaughtered at least 152 people - the deadliest single strike since the war began four years ago. Shiites, including police, went on a revenge shooting rampage afterward, murdering at least 45 Sunni men.

Official Iraqi estimates - notoriously low due to poor record-keeping - show civilian deaths were almost 15 percent higher in March than February. The increase occurred in spite of the security crackdown.

More than 80 U.S. military personnel lost their lives in Iraq during March. That brings total U.S. military deaths since 2003 to 3,257, with more than 24,000 wounded.

McCain, once a voice of reason within the Republican Party, risks a complete collapse of credibility if he continues to insist that a temporary decrease in violence in Baghdad means there's a light at the end of the tunnel. The light McCain sees comes from a car bomb explosion.

He might salvage his fading presidential hopes by claiming his recent Baghdad Bob impersonation was the product of jet lag or food poisoning and by trying to persuade President Bush to compromise with Congress on a way to end the war.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; McCain sees "encouraging signs" in Baghdad
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Apr 5, 2007
Words:674
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