your connection to The Boston Globe

McCain visits Baghdad, hails security crackdown

Six US soldiers killed in violence south of capital

Senator John McCain said there was reason for "very cautious optimism" on the crackdown. During the visit, McCain visited the city's largest market, which has been hit by bombings. (SABAH ARAR/AFP/Getty Images)

BAGHDAD -- After a heavily guarded trip to a Baghdad market, Senator John McCain insisted yesterday that a US-Iraqi security crackdown in the capital was working and said Americans lacked a "full picture" of the progress. The US military later reported 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 shot to death in southern Iraq -- its 104th combat casualty since the war started four years ago.

McCain, an Arizona Republican and presidential hopeful who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, acknowledged a difficult task lies ahead in Iraq, but criticized the media 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 the western Anbar Province.

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

McCain was combative during the press conference, refusing to respond to a question about whether the United States had plans to attack Iran. He also replied testily to a question about remarks he had 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," 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 briefing after they rode from Baghdad's airport in armored vehicles under heavy guard to visit the city's largest market. The market has been hit by bombings, including a February attack that killed 137 people. 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 shopping 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 US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus.

While the capital has seen a recent dip in violence as extra US and Iraqi troops have flooded the streets, an Iraqi military spokesman said that 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 names of the slain US soldiers were not given and the military did not give an exact location of the attacks, saying only that they occurred southwest of the capital.

A Marine serving in Anbar Province also died in a "noncombat related incident," the military said separately, raising to at least 3,253 the number of US service members who have died in Iraq since the war began in March 2003.