As the AP points out, al Qaeda members are Sunni Muslims while Iran is a Shiite-led country, an unlikely combination of forces. McCain reportedly made the same mistake in interviews prior to the presser. The DNC was quick to jump on the flub. "Not only is Senator McCain wrong on Iraq once again, but he showed he either doesn't understand the challenges facing Iraq and the region or is willing to ignore the facts on the ground," said DNC communications director Karen Finney. McCain is highlighting his national security credentials in his bid for the White House so misstatements like this aren't too helpful.
Update: The McCain campaign responds with the following statement:
"In a press conference today, John McCain misspoke and immediately corrected himself by stating that Iran is in fact supporting radical Islamic extremists in Iraq, not Al Qaeda -- as the transcript shows. Democrats have launched political attacks today because they know the American people have deep concerns about their candidates' judgment and readiness to lead as commander in chief."
Here's the transcript provided --
McCain: "Well, it's common knowledge and has been reported in the media that Al Qaeda is going back into Iran and is receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran. That's well known and it's unfortunate. So I believe that we are succeeding in Iraq - the situation has dramatically improved, but I also want to emphasize time and again Al Qaeda is on the run, but they are not defeated. We are seeing a major battle take place in Mosul as we speak. The southern part of Iraq has other difficulties as we well know. So I am pleased with the progress, we have a long way to go, and I am deeply concerned about Iranian influence, not only in Iraq, but on nuclear weapons; on sponsorship of Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations, and if we leave Iraq it will enhance Iranian influence in the region to the detriment, I think, of every nation in the region."
McCain: "I'm sorry; the Iranians are training the extremists, not Al Qaeda. Not Al Qaeda. I'm sorry."