The Washington Times - July 25, 2008, 03:38PM

For the second time this week, John McCain and his campaign have accused Barack Obama of a war strategy that would have endangered Sunni sheiks in Iraq who were key to the awakening that’s been credited with quelling al Qaeda violence in Anbar province.

The only problem is that Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, a key sheik the U.S. based its strategy on, was killed in September, well after the surge began, and it did not end the awakening. And the Sunni Awakening in Anbar, as it’s come to be called, began months before President Bush announced the surge.


The whole flap started after McCain, in an interview with CBS, got the time line wrong on the awakening, crediting the surge with creating the conditions for it. In the days since, McCain instead has tacked to try to claim the surge preserved the awakening — and pointing to keeping the sheiks alive as a key piece of evidence.

Here is McCain from his prepared remarks in Denver today: “If Senator Obama had prevailed, American forces would have had to retreat under fire. The Iraqi Army would have collapsed. Civilian casualties would have increased dramatically. Al Qaeda would have killed the Sunni sheikhs who had begun to cooperate with us, and the ‘Sunni Awakening’ would have been strangled at birth. Al Qaeda fighters would have safe havens, from where they could train Iraqis and foreigners, and turn Iraq into a base for launching attacks on Americans elsewhere. Civil war, genocide and wider conflict would have been likely.”

And here was McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds earlier this week:

“Democrats can debate whether the Awakening would have survived without the surge, or whether the Shiite militias would have unilaterally disarmed without US troops and our Iraqi allies disarming them by force, but that is a transparent effort to minimize the role of our commanders and our troops in defeating the enemy, because to credit them would be to disparage the judgment of Barack Obama and praise the leadership of John McCain.

“If Barack Obama had had his way, the Sheiks who started the Awakening would have been murdered at the hands of al Qaeda, and US forces would have already left Iraq in defeat.”

The overall success of the surge is now apparent, but it’s tough to argue Obama’s plan would have led to the death of sheiks when they’re dying anyway. While it wasn’t in Anbar province, another pro-American Sunni leader was killed just this week.

Stephen Dinan, national political correspondent, The Washington Times