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John McCain's Al Qaeda confusion

April 8, 2008 |  9:23 am

John McCain got unwanted attention recently when, during a visit to the Middle East, he said that Iran, a nation of Shiite Muslims, was providing aid and comfort to Al Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni group.

His friend, Joe Lieberman, who was also on the trip, had to famously whisper in his ear to correct him. 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 once again seemed to make a muddle of the whole Shiite-Al Qaeda thing. It came in this exchange with 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 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, all overall, or Sunnis or anybody else."

Good thing he quickly threw Sunnis in there. At least he didn't need Lieberman to bail him out this time.

McCain may want to work on this obvious weakness in his Iraq fund of knowledge. Maybe flash cards would help.

-- Frank James

Frank James writes for the Swamp of the Chicago Tribune's Washington bureau.