John McCain was struck with a bit of unfortunate timing on Friday when his speech touting the security benefits of the surge was preceded by news of the death of eight civilians, including a pro-American leader of the Sunni Awakening, in a suicide bombing in Iraq.
Appearing at the American GI Forum in Denver, Colorado, McCain turned to a theme he has hit on all week: the surge of U.S. forces in Iraq were instrumental in nourishing the turnaround of Iraq's Anbar province.
"If Senator Obama had prevailed, American forces would have had to retreat under fire. The Iraqi Army would have collapsed. Civilian casualties would have increased dramatically," the Senator's prepared remarks read. "Al Qaeda would have killed the Sunni sheiks who had begun to cooperate with us, and the "Sunni Awakening" would have been strangled at birth. Al Qaeda fighters would have safe havens, from where they could train Iraqis and foreigners, and turn Iraq into a base for launching attacks on Americans elsewhere. Civil war, genocide and wider conflict would have been likely."
Sadly, the day before the address, a female suicide bomber set off a massive bomb that targeted and killed one of those Sunni leaders that McCain referenced. As the New York Times reported on Friday:
"At first, a car bomb seemed the only explanation for the huge blast on Thursday on one of Baquba's main thoroughfares that killed a pro-American Sunni militia leader, an Iraqi police captain, a local politician, and five other people... This time the target was Naim Abdul Jabbar al-Dulaimi, the leader of an Awakening militia group in western Baquba, according to Abu Muhammed, one of the militia leaders. Mr. Dulaimi was killed, he said, when the bomb detonated at 6 p.m. in front of the Rukn al-Azam restaurant, a popular hangout for Baquba policemen nestled among a crowded marketplace."
Dulaimi's assassination symbolizes some of the difficulties McCain -- and Obama -- face in campaigning around the Iraq war. How the voters in the United States will respond to violence overseas is impossible to determine. And certainly each candidate has base-appeasing arguments to make as to their positions on the surge. For McCain, however, this is the second time he has claimed that the surge protected individuals behind the Anbar Awakening only to be confronted by a pro-American figure's death.
Earlier this week, the Arizona Republican's campaign claimed that had "Barack Obama had had his way, the Sheiks who started the Awakening would have been murdered at the hands of al Qaeda." Their reference -- Abdul Sattar Abu Risha - had actually been assassinated by al-Qaeda in the very midst of the surge. Sattar's work, prior to then, was hailed by U.S. Army Col. Sean MacFarland as a major effort in transforming the province from one of Iraq's deadliest areas into one of its safest.
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