AC: "Progress, but still far from victory..."
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: First, though, opinion and fact -- a week ago, Senator John McCain said there were parts of Baghdad safe enough for him to walk around in. This weekend, wearing a flak jacket and very heavily guarded, he took that walk through a Baghdad market. That's a fact.
And here's another: Just a day after his visit, snipers were back, shooting the place up.
More facts now from CNN's Michael Ware.
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For presidential candidate Senator John McCain, walking Baghdad's Shorja market is a sure sign of change.
He and the congressional delegation he led spent an hour Sunday talking to Iraqis and buying carpets. But theirs was anything but an everyday experience -- around them, more than 100 U.S. soldiers locking down the area, keeping out traffic and pedestrians; overhead, two Apache gunships; hidden around the market, U.S. sniper teams.
With thousands of U.S. troop reinforcements moving into Baghdad, as part of a surge to quell the capital, McCain's real message was for Americans back home.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The American people are not getting the full picture of what's happening here. They're not getting the full picture of the drop in murders, the establishment of security outposts throughout the city, the situation in Anbar Province, the deployment of additional Iraqi brigades, who are performing well, and other signs of progress that are having been made.
WARE: Progress, but still far from victory, said the senator, with a long, difficult struggle and much more violence ahead. Indeed, on the day his congressional delegation made its P.R. visit to the Baghdad market, across the country, six American troops and a British soldier were killed, 15 Iraqi soldiers died in a truck bombing in Mosul, a police officer in Diyala Province was killed by a hidden bomb, and three civilians blown apart in another market.
And, back in Baghdad, the same morning of the congressional visit, Iraqi police found 17 bullet-riddled bodies on the city streets. With Baghdad morgues still overflowing with grieving relatives, the senator's point is that the daily sectarian death toll is down from just months ago.
Yet, outside the capital, sectarian violence is unabated. 19 tortured bodies found in Diyala Province Monday morning. And, in the border town of Tal Afar -- praised by President Bush as a model of U.S. success, reclaimed from al Qaeda -- Iraqi officials say suicide bombings one day last week slaughtered 152 mainly Shia Muslims, prompting some officers in the Shia-dominated police to execute up to 70 Sunni Muslims later that night.
It's this violence Senator McCain hopes more U.S. soldiers can stop, even though more Iraqis died in March than in February. Just last week, the senator claimed reinforcements had already made parts of Baghdad so safe, an American could now walk them, something even an Iraqi journalist had to question.
QUESTION: I have just read on the Internet that you said there are areas in Baghdad that you can walk around freely.
MCCAIN: Yes, I just was -- came from one.
QUESTION: Pardon me?
MCCAIN: I just came from one.
QUESTION: Yes. And which areas would that be?
MCCAIN: Sir, what I said was -- what I said was that there is encouraging signs and that things are better.
WARE: Just seven weeks ago, this was the market where McCain went shopping -- three separate bombs minutes apart, 79 lives lost, the market's fifth attack since last summer.
And, while there hasn't been a bombing here since, it may be just as well Senator McCain's delegation had heavy protection. According to the Reuters News Agency, the market was hit just 24 hours later with sniper fire, a regular event, locals say, with about one person cut down each day -- the senator's visit perhaps highlighting more than he intended: that, in war, as in politics, perception so often is reality.
ROBERTS: Michael Ware joins us now live from Baghdad. Michael, in the past 48 hours, after that press conference, there's been some buzz on conservative blogs that you were a bit of a yabbo at that press conference; you were heckling Senator McCain; you were asking impertinent questions.
What really went on?
WARE: Well, I can tell you straightaway, John, the answer's rather dull and boring. Nothing went on. Indeed, I didn't heckle. I didn't even ask a question.
And I think the videotape of the press conference from the moment the senator walked in until the moment the senator walked out bears that out. Essentially, I arrived at press conference, sat where I usually sit, thereabouts, and waited for it to begin. The senators were late, and it was over almost before it began.
ROBERTS: Now, Michael, there's no question that, if we look back to last week, you had an interesting explanation for the -- or response to the senator's words, when he said you could walk around freely in some areas of Baghdad. Do you think that somehow what you said last week and what's being said about you now are tied together?
WARE: Well, I don't think it's too much of a longbow to draw to link the two.
I think that, as a result of what the senator said last week -- and let's bear in mind, his Iraq policies, more than most, reflect the realities on the ground. But, in one gaffe last week, he put his whole Iraq credibility on the line. And, when he was called to question on that, his arrival here in Baghdad became such a political investment. His visit to that Baghdad market just had to work, and he had to herald it as a great success. So, there's a lot of pressure on him.
And other people at that press conference, in the print media the next day, called him sometimes testy and defensive. So, obviously, the senator was feeling the pressure.
ROBERTS: Did McCain's people say anything to you during that press conference or after, Michael?
WARE: No, not before, during or after. Indeed, after the original blowup the week before, we attempted several times, through a multitude of channels, to reach out to the senator's people, and to say that we would be very happy to discuss any issues with him. Yet, we were rebuffed and ignored at every turn.
ROBERTS: Now, take a look at a couple of the issues here, Michael. You said in your report that the senator didn't do anything at the Shorja market that hadn't been done before. And that is to go out in the streets, with heavy protection, snipers on the rooftops, lots of armed men surrounding you, and really didn't do anything to highlight the progress that has been made as a result of the surge.
If he wanted to highlight that progress, what should he have done, in your estimation?
WARE: Well, I think there are a couple of relatively simple things, yet very poignant things, that could be done.
For example, he doesn't even have to come to Iraq. He could visit exiles from Iraq who are sheltering in Jordan, for example, and ask them, are you going home? Has the surge made you feel more confident? Or, indeed, here in Baghdad, if he wants to venture out of the comfort of the Green Zone, go somewhere real. Go to one of these camps where the displaced are sheltering, these people who have been driven from their homes by racial ethnic cleansing or sectarian cleansing. Ask them, are you ready to go home?
Or, even still, visit a Baghdad morgue. See if there is a decline. Talk to the people there, where their emotions are stripped bare, and they're not confronted by a politician surrounded by soldiers with guns in a marketplace.
ROBERTS: Well, maybe we will see him do some of that, but perhaps not this time.
Michael Ware, in Baghdad, good to see you, mate. Thanks very much.