Yesterday, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said he was “surprised” by violent clashes between central Iraqi government and militias connected to Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr last week in the southern Iraqi city of Basra. “Maliki decided to take on this operation without consulting the Americans,” McCain told reporters on his campaign bus.
As MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann noted last night, at the same time McCain expressed surprise about the developments in Basra, he also got basic facts wrong about the ceasefire that halted the violence on Sunday. McCain claimed that “it was Sadr who asked for the ceasefire,” not Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malki:
Asked if the Basra campaign had backfired, he said: “Apparently it was Sadr who asked for the ceasefire, declared a ceasefire. It wasn’t Maliki. Very rarely do I see the winning side declare a ceasefire. So we’ll see.’’
As Mother Jones’ Jonathan Stein notes today, McCain’s description of what happened is “completely misleading” and wrong. In fact, Sadr’s call for a ceasefire only came after members of Maliki’s political party traveled to Iran to broker a deal with him:
The backdrop to Sadr’s dramatic statement was a secret trip Friday by Iraqi lawmakers to Qom, Iran’s holy city and headquarters for the Iranian clergy who run the country.
There the Iraqi lawmakers held talks with Brig. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Qods (Jerusalem) brigades of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and signed an agreement with Sadr, which formed the basis of his statement Sunday, members of parliament said.
Ali al Adeeb, a member of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s Dawa party, and Hadi al Ameri, the head of the Badr Organization, the military wing of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, had two aims, lawmakers said: to ask Sadr to stand down his militia and to ask Iranian officials to stop supplying weapons to Shiite militants in Iraq.
According to the AP, “the peace deal between al-Sadr and Iraqi government forces” not only “left the cleric’s Mahdi Army intact,” but it also left Maliki “politically battered and humbled within his own Shi’ite power base.”
This is not the first time in recent memory that McCain has gotten basic facts about Iraq wrong. Two weeks ago, he repeatedly made false claims that Iran was training al Qaeda fighters in Iraq.
Matt Duss has more at the Wonk Room.