Facts can be funny things.
Over the past several weeks, Sen. John McCain has been occasionally tripping over them in his advocacy for continuing America's presence in Iraq. Most memorably, he repeated - three times - the assertion that Iran was arming al-Qaeda despite the fact that there is no known connection between country and the group, and that the two are clearly of different religions.
On Sunday, McCain made another Iraq-based claim that is highly debatable if not simply false.
As Think Progress was first to point out, appearing on Fox News Sunday, the Arizona Republican stated that the recent flair up of violence in Basra was ended after Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr declared a ceasefire. This, he said, was proof that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government was gaining the upper hand, both militarily and politically.
"It was al-Sadr that declared the ceasefire, not Maliki," said McCain. "With respect, I don't think Sadr would have declared the ceasefire if he thought he was winning. Most times in history, military engagements, the winning side doesn't declare the ceasefire. The second point is, overall, the Iraqi military performed pretty well. ... The military is functioning very effectively."
It is a convenient interpretation for a candidate who later went on to tout the political successes of the American troop surge. But it seems to contradict almost all news accounts from last week. Indeed, it was the Iranian government and members of Maliki's government who brokered the ceasefire, not Sadr. McClatchy newspapers wrote in its lead paragraph:
"Iraqi lawmakers traveled to the Iranian holy city of Qom over the weekend to win the support of the commander of Iran's Qods brigades in persuading Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr to order his followers to stop military operations."
Moreover, in the process of fighting Sadr, at least 1,000 of Maliki's troops deserted the battle. McCain tried to put a good face on this too, by reminding viewers that, slightly more than a year ago that number would have been much higher. But that too ignores the testimony of many Iraq experts who suggest that far from showing the strength of Maliki's forces, the recent battle in Basra did little but make Sadr stronger. As Jonathan Steele wrote in The Guardian:
"Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki...has emerged with his authority severely weakened. ... Meanwhile, Moqtada al-Sadr, the target of the assault, comes out of the crisis strengthened. His militiamen gave no ground and, by declaring a ceasefire that has successfully held since Sunday, Sadr has demonstrated his authority and the discipline of his men."