Many of us raised our eyebrows during President Bush's speech on Iraq to the Council on Foreign Relations.
That he chose Najaf, the ancient Shiite town in the South, and Mosul, the divided, dangerous city in the North, as examples of positive economic change only underscores - for those of us on the ground - just how bad things are elsewhere in the country.
True, those who have been to Najaf recently say that there are signs of reconstruction.
The U.S. government has pumped more than $200 million into numerous projects - from a maternity hospital and new schools, to a police station for females (to train female cadets to search other females at checkpoints). Japan has also funded Najaf's spanking new fleet of bright red fire engines.
But that progress is due in large part to a security crackdown that should worry, rather than encourage, Westerners.
Najaf is a town where Shia police Shia. So you don't have the usual sectarian violence you find in mixed, Shia-Sunni cities.
But the Iraqi police are heavy-handed, and are backed up by both the Iranian-supported Badr Brigade and the Mahdi Army, the militia that defends the maverick cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
This is the same militia U.S. forces were battling in the streets of Najaf before a truce was called, last year.
Not exactly a town where a non-Shiite pilgrim would feel safe walking the streets.
Many experts think that authorities in Najaf are just milking the USAID and Army Corps of Engineers for all the projects they can get, on the long road to their Shiite Islamic nation.
And we remember what happened to the darling of the Bush Administration - former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi - when he paid a campaign visit to Najaf earlier this week: his entourage was assaulted by stone and shoe-throwing crowds.
Some bodyguards saw knives and guns being drawn. Allawi himself called it an assassination attempt. It doesn't augur well for U.S. policy in Iraq if one of its poster boys just escapes from Najaf with his life.
To be fair, Bush did mention the kidnappings and militias in Najaf. But it’s even worse in Mosul.
In fact, it's misleading to speak of progress in Mosul - there are two Mosuls. The Kurdish East Mosul, and Arab West Mosul.
Much of the reconstruction occurs in the U.S.-friendly East. While the Arab side of Mosul is rife with improvised explosive devices (IED's), kidnappings, snipers and remains a magnet for Islamic militants, former Baathists, and Arab nationalists.
It's also a way station for insurgents crossing into Iraq from nearby Syria. Just voting in the upcoming election will be risky for the citizens of Mosul, much less rebuilding the city.
And, of course, Bush didn't mention Baghdad, or Baquoba, Ramadi, Fallujah - cities inside the so-called Sunni Triangle where the insurgency has cast a pall on rebuilding.
A power station is rebuilt by U.S. Army engineers in South Baghdad on Tuesday; it is blown up by militants on Thursday.
These are cities and towns where the frustrating cycle continues, where so many Iraqis still complain about lacking the bare necessities - power, drinkable water, safety - despite the $10 billion America has spent here, and the best of its intentions.
- Life beyond the violence
Suicide attacks and murders due to sectarian conflict continue around Iraq. See how residents live their lives amid the attacks.