McCain explains Sunni/Shiite 'confusion': Al-Qaeda 'not necessarily just Sunni'

McCain explains Sunni/Shiite 'confusion': Al-Qaeda 'not necessarily just Sunni'

David Edwards and Mike Sheehan
Published: Wednesday April 9, 2008

Sen. John McCain, defending his recent troubles differentiating between the two major branches of Islam, suggested today that the terror network al-Qaeda encompasses both Sunni and Shi'a.

When asked today by a Fox News host about recent gaffes in which he confused Sunnis and Shiites, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee smiled, shook his head and replied, "I've been to Iraq eight times, I know the leaders, I know the situation on the ground, I know that Sunni and al-Qaeda are closely tied... The question I was asking and the question that needs to be answered is, How widespread is al-Qaeda's influence in the region as well as in Iraq?

"I believe that al-Qaeda does a lot of things," McCain continued, "including with organizations and parts of the populations that are not necessarily just Sunni." McCain did not elaborate.

Al-Qaeda is a decidedly Sunni organization, having been founded in 1988 by an alliance of Sunni militant groups around the world. Iraq, and Iran in particular, are on the other hand predominantly Shiite nations. Sunnism and Shi'ism are ancient and distinct denominations of Islam.

Some are concerned that the hawkish McCain, a vociferous supporter of the war on terror, is unable or unwilling to clearly discern whom it is allied forces are battling.

Less than a month ago, while visiting Jordan with Sen. Joe Lieberman, McCain said several times that Iran was supplying al-Qaeda, prompting Lieberman to correct him on-camera.

Just in the last week, McCain has misstated details of the ceasefire in Basra and again confused Sunnis and Shiites while referencing al-Qaeda during a Senate hearing with U.S. commander of allied forces Gen. David Petraeus