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Once again, McCain confuses Sunnis with Shiites
John Byrne
Published: Tuesday April 8, 2008

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LA Times blogger: 'Maybe flash cards would help'

John McCain isn't quite sure of himself on Iraq.

Last month, the Arizona senator got a whisper in his ear from Sen. Joe Lieberman, after he said that Iran was providing aid to Al Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni group. Iran, however, is actually a Shiite nation. On Fox News Sunday, McCain also got wrong the details of an Iraqi ceasefire.

"His friend, Joe Lieberman, who was also on the trip, had to famously whisper in his ear to correct him," the LA Times writes today. "This allowed McCain's two Democratic rivals for the presidency, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to criticize McCain for his mistake, which came in the area that's supposed to be in his wheelhouse: national security and foreign policy."

At today's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, McCain seems to have gotten it wrong again, when interviewing Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus.

MCCAIN: "There are numerous threats to security in Iraq and the future of Iraq. Do you still view al-Qaeda in Iraq as a major threat?"

PETRAEUS: "It is a major threat. Though it is certainly as not as major a threat as it was say, 15 months ago."

MCCAIN: "Certainly not an obscure sect of the Shias overall?

PETRAEUS: "No, sir."

MCCAIN: "Or Sunnis or anybody else then?

Watch the video on The Huffington Post here.

"McCain may want to work on this obvious weakness in his Iraq fund of knowledge," the Times blog remarks. "Maybe flash cards would help."

During an appearance on Fox News Sunday Apr. 6, McCain repeated the false claim that Muqtada al-Sadr declared the ceasefire in Basra last week and said he thought the Iraqi army was performing well.

"It was al-Sadr that declared the ceasefire, not Maliki," said McCain. "With respect, I donít think Sadr would have declared the ceasefire if he thought he was winning. Most times in history, military engagements, the winning side doesnít declare the ceasefire. The second point is, overall, the Iraqi military performed pretty well. Ö The military is functioning very effectively."

As the blog, Think Progress notes, "it was members of Prime Minister Nouri al-Malikiís government who brokered the ceasefire, to which Sadr agreed. Experts agree that Sadrís influence was strengthened ó rather than diminished ó by the Basra battle."

The Democratic National Committee quickly attacked McCain, noting several mishaps in a press release.

  • March 17, 2008: McCain said on the Hugh Hewitt radio show "As you know, there are al-Qaeda operatives that are taken back into Iran, given training as leaders, and they're moving back into Iraq." [New York Times, 3/19/08 -- Transcript.
  • March 18, 2008: In Jordan after a trip to Iraq, McCain said a press conference that " 'We continue to be concerned about Iranian [operatives] taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back,' he said in comments after meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah II on Tuesday afternoon. Pressed to elaborate, McCain said it is 'common knowledge and has been reported in the media that al-Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran; that's well known. And it's unfortunate.' A few moments later, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), standing just behind McCain, stepped forward and whispered in his ear. McCain then said, 'I'm sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda.'" [Washington Post, 3/19/08]
  • March 19, 2008: The next day however, in a press release on the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, McCain said "Al Qaeda and Shia extremists -- with support from external powers such as Iran -- are on the run but not defeated." [McCain Presidential Campaign Press Release via Targeted News Service, 3/19/08]
  • November 2007: McCain Said that Al Qaeda Is Getting "Supplies and Equipment" From Iran. "Al Qaeda is not defeated," McCain told George Stephanopoulos on ABC's This Week. "They're on the run, but they are not defeated, and they continue to get supplies and equipment through Iran, and they continue to get suicide bombers through Syria." [ABC, This Week with George Stephanopoulos, 11/25/07]
  • April 8, 2008: McCain Referred To Al Qaeda As A "Sect Of Shi'ites" MCCAIN: Do you still view al Qaeda in Iraq as a major threat? PETRAEUS: It is still a major threat, though it is certainly not as major a threat as it was say 15 months ago. MCCAIN: Certainly not an obscure sect of the Shi'ites overall? [CNN, 4/8/08]