- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 1, 2007

BAGHDAD — Sen. John McCain, speaking after a heavily guarded trip to a Baghdad market, said yesterday that a U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown in the capital was working and that Americans lacked a “full picture” of the progress.

The U.S. military later reported that six soldiers were killed in roadside bombings southwest of Baghdad.

Four soldiers were killed responding to the blast that killed the first two, the military said. Britain, meanwhile, announced that one of its soldiers had been fatally shot in southern Iraq.

Mr. McCain, a Republican presidential hopeful who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, acknowledged a difficult task lies ahead in Iraq, but criticized the press for not giving Americans enough information about the recent drop in execution-style sectarian killings, the establishment of security posts throughout the city and Sunni tribal efforts against al Qaeda in western Anbar province.

“These and other indicators are reason for cautious, very cautious optimism about the effects of the new strategy,” said Mr. McCain, who was leading a Republican congressional delegation to Iraq that includes Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican.

Mr. McCain of Arizona was asked to explain remarks he made in the United States last week that it was safe to walk some Baghdad streets.

“Things are better, and there are encouraging signs. I’ve been here … many times over the years. Never have I been able to drive from the airport, never have I been able go out into the city as I was today,” he said.

“I’m not saying, ‘mission accomplished,’ ‘last throes,’ ‘dead-enders’ or any of that. It’s long and it’s hard and it’s very, very difficult,” he said. “I believe that the signs are encouraging, but please don’t interpret one comment of mine in any way to indicate that this isn’t a long, difficult struggle.”

Members of the delegation spoke at a Green Zone press conference after they rode from Baghdad’s airport in armored vehicles and under heavy guard to visit the city’s largest market, which was been hit by several recent bombings, including one in February that killed 137 persons.

They said the trips were proof that security was improving in the capital. Prominent visitors normally make the trip from the airport to the city center by helicopter.

The congressmen, who wore body armor during their hourlong excursion, said they were impressed with the resilience and warmth of the Iraqi people, some of whom would not take money for their souvenirs. They were accompanied by the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus.

Even though the capital has seen reduced violence as extra U.S. and Iraqi troops have flooded the streets, an Iraqi military spokesman said militants fleeing the crackdown have made areas outside the capital “breeding grounds for violence,” spreading deadly bombings and sectarian attacks to areas once relatively untouched.

The U.S. military indicate that the American soldiers died just before and after midnight Saturday night. The names of the soldiers were not given and the military did not give an exact location, saying only that the attacks occurred southwest of the capital.

A Marine serving in Anbar province also died yesterday in a “noncombat-related incident,” the military said.

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