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McCain: A History of Being Wrong About Al Qaeda, Iraq and Iran

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John McCain on several occasions recently has asserted that Iran and Al Qaeda are working together, including last month in Houston, Texas. The facts are much more complicated. McCain's assertions directly contradict General Petraeus who stated just yesterday that Al Qaeda weapons and suicide bombers actually come primarily through Syria.

McCain made the same mistake in 2002, before the Iraq War, when he claimed that Iraq would be part of a "weapons assembly line for al-Qaeda's network." In reality the 9/11 Commission and a recent Pentagon report found no operational relationship.

McCain, too often mistaken for a purported national security expert, conflates and confuses various regional players -- the same kind of dangerous oversimplification that pushed us into war five years ago.

McCain Has on Several Occasions Implied that Iran is an Important Al Qaeda Partner

Last month McCain claimed that Al Qaeda and Iran were working together. "But Al-Qaeda is there, they are functioning, they are supported in many times, in many ways by the Iranians." [Comments at the Baker Institute for Public Policy in Houston, 2/28/08]

McCain repeated the claim three times this week in Amman Jordan and on the Hugh Hewitt Show. "Speaking to reporters in Amman, the Jordanian capital, McCain said he and two Senate colleagues traveling with him continue to be concerned about Iranian operatives "taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back." [Washington Post, 3/18/08. Hugh Hewitt Show, 3/18/08]

But General Petraeus Stated That Al Qaeda Operatives Were Coming Into Iraq, Primarily Through Syria

In an interview this week Petraeus stated that: "the flow of foreign fighters and suicide bombers that help Al Qaeda typically is through Syria." [CNN, 3/19/08]

Before the Iraq War McCain Made Questionable Claims About the Connection Between Al Qaeda and Iraq

Before the war McCain claimed that Iraq would be a "weapons assembly line for al-Qaeda's network." "Iraq and al-Qaeda present the United States with enemies on multiple fronts. In World War II, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, we went to war -- against them and against the Nazis, who had not attacked our homeland. We did not have the luxury of fighting one enemy at a time. Sept. 11, 2001 showed that al-Qaeda is a grave threat. Saddam Hussein has the ability to make a far worse day of infamy by turning Iraq into a weapons assembly line for al-Qaeda's network." [USA Today 2/13/03]

McCain said Bin Laden and Saddam connected because they share "common cause." "But what I think it's ample evidence of is that bin Laden will do anything he could to harm the United States of America, and he has common cause with Saddam Hussein who will do anything he can to harm the United States of America. And the two of them together can make a very potent recipe." [NBC Today Show, 2/13/03]

In Fact, There Was No Operational Relationship Between Al Qaeda and Iraq Before the War

A comprehensive report by the Institute for Defense Analysis found no relationship between Al Qaeda and Iraq. "An exhaustive review of more than 600,000 Iraqi documents that were captured after the 2003 U.S. invasion has found no evidence that Saddam Hussein's regime had any operational links with Osama bin Laden's al Qaida terrorist network." [McClatchy, 3/10/08]

The 9/11 Commission report found no "collaborative operational relationship" between Al Qaeda and Iraq. [9/11 Commission Report]