Tuesday, March 20, 2007

US and Iraqi generals - the full-spin zone?

Interesting article by Truus Bos from NBC's WorldBlog (http://worldblog.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2007/03/19/94397.aspx), describing the dichotomy of American and Iraqi generals talking about how safe parts of Baghdad are ("It feels like walking around in Istanbul," said one major general. "I invite you to go and look for yourselves!") and how dangerous, chaotic, and lawless the city actually is. It's an interesting companion to the ABC poll that came out earlier this week finding that over half of Iraqis believe they were better off under Saddam.

But, of course, give "the Surge" six months, and everything will be just all peachy-keen. Right?

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Last week several generals, both Iraqi and American, made a point of describing how certain areas in Baghdad, especially some markets and shopping districts, were reviving due to the security crackdown.
"It's one of the ways we can measure success. Shops are re-opening their doors, market stalls are full of fresh fruit and vegetables, and people are flocking to these places to do their shopping because they feel safe," we were told. "It's a real sign of things returning to normal, especially where we've created pedestrian zones by blocking the streets off to vehicles, so car bombs have no access."

"It feels like walking around in Istanbul," said one major general. "I invite you to go and look for yourselves!"

"Let's go shopping," I quipped to our translators, which caused a mixture of hilarious and nervous laughter. I wasn't serious of course, because although it may be safe for local Iraqis to walk around a market, anyone looking Western is still a likely target for kidnappers and other criminals.

Not so fast
So we tried to get a military escort to one of these places. No luck this past weekend, military units which might have been able to escort us were busy with more important things. I asked one of our Iraqi producers to go with our local crew.

They voiced some concerns, but mainly about traveling to the area, so we decided to send some Iraqi security men with them to watch their backs.

We decided to go to Shorja market, Baghdad's most popular central shopping district, which has been bombed several times, including by a large truck bomb which killed 137 last month. It was turned into a pedestrian zone and was the area that the major general described as feeling like Istanbul now.

But the next day, Saturday, our cameraman, told me he checked with a friend who lives near Shorja market, where he was going to film, and he told him there are snipers operating in the area.

A man with a camera on his shoulder is an attractive and easy target. We cancelled the shoot and decided to wait until the military had time to go with us.

Hard to document signs of success
The next day, Sunday, a man tossed a hand grenade into a group of waiting workmen at Shorja market. One man was killed, another wounded. The suspect escaped. We considered ourselves lucky we weren't there.

Then on Monday, someone left a bomb behind the preacher's podium in a small mosque situated among shops at the same market and set it off after the prayers, killing eight and injuring 32. It's as if the culprits want to destroy any signs of normality and stop any claims of success.

And for us, it’s becoming even more difficult to go out and document the signs of progress and normality the U.S. military say are out there.

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