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McCain Was Right, Iran Works with Al Qaeda

5:53 PM, Mar 18, 2008 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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Some bloggers are jumping all over Senator John McCain for his supposed "gaffe" today. According to The Trail, a blog over at the Washington Post, McCain said that Iranian operatives were "taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back." He elaborated by saying it was "common knowledge and has been reported in the media that al-Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran, that's well known. And it's unfortunate." Senator John Lieberman apparently then whispered something in McCain's ear, prompting McCain to take it back: "I'm sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda."

So now a bunch of bloggers, and even some of the networks, are pouncing on McCain. They point to the fact that Iran is Shiite and al Qaeda is Sunni, so they could not possibly cooperate. Because Senator McCain doesn't know this "fact," he is supposedly ignorant of what is going on in Iraq and in general.

But McCain was right the first time. He shouldn't have taken his statement back. And it's the bloggers who are ignorant--not John McCain.

Consider, for example:

• Earlier this month, the U.S. military and the current head of Iraqi intelligence reported that Iran has been targeting al Qaeda's enemies--not al Qaeda itself--inside Iraq. There have also been a number of reports on Iran's support for al Qaeda in Iraq. The Kurds have routinely complained about Iran's support for al Qaeda's affiliate, Ansar al-Islam. For more on Ansar al-Islam's ties to Iran, and other bad actors, see Dan Darling's excellent primer. As Darling wrote: "Another apparent relationship exists between Ansar and radical elements of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which seeks to use Ansar as a proxy force against the Coalition in Iraq."

• More generally, the theological differences between Iran and al Qaeda have never been a serious impediment to cooperation. For example, I wrote a lengthy essay on the topic of Iran's cooperation with al Qaeda going back to the early 1990's. And in a recent piece, I detailed the evidence cooperation between Iran's chief terrorist, the late Imad Mugniyah, and al Qaeda.

• The 9-11 Commission found extensive evidence of collaboration between Iran and al Qaeda. For example, the Commission concluded (p. 61): "The relationship between al Qaeda and Iran demonstrated that Sunni-Shia divisions did not necessarily pose an insurmountable barrier to cooperation in terrorist operations."

• The Clinton administration recognized the relationship between al Qaeda, Iran, and Iran's terrorist proxy, Hezbollah. Here is, in part, what the Clinton administration charged in its indictment of al Qaeda following the August 1998 embassy bombings: "USAMA BIN LADEN, the defendant, and al Qaeda also forged alliances with the National Islamic Front in the Sudan and with representatives of the government of Iran, and its associated terrorist group Hizballah, for the purpose of working together against their perceived common enemies in the West, particularly the United States."

• The mainstream media, including the Washington Post itself, has reported on Iran's ties to al Qaeda. But now a blog hosted by the Washington Post dismisses the idea that the two could collaborate.

John McCain was right the first time. He shouldn't have taken his comment back. But this whole imbroglio shows just how much ignorance there is concerning our terrorist enemies.