After talking of an Iranian plan to split Iraq, she now says it's hard to know what to expect.
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann claimed two weeks ago to know of an Iranian plan for the partition of Iraq in which Iran would control half the country and set it up as "a terrorist safe haven zone" and a staging area for attacks around the Middle East and on the United States.
The existence of such a plan has not been suggested publicly by the Bush administration or other officials.
But on Friday, after her claim was highlighted on the Star Tribune's Big Question weblog, Bachmann issued a new statement asserting her earlier comments had been "misconstrued." The second statement in effect retracted the first in several important respects.
In her original statement, made at the end of a wide-ranging Feb. 9 interview with Larry Schumacher of the St. Cloud Times, the freshman representative from Minnesota's 6th District said, "Half of Iraq, the western, northern portion of Iraq, is going to be called ... the Iraq State of Islam, something like that. And I'm sorry, I don't have the official name, but it's meant to be the training ground for the terrorists. There's already an agreement made."
The Times did not publish a story about it, but the audio of the full interview was posted on the paper's website.
Bachmann declined interviews Thursday and Friday but her statement Friday afternoon said that Iran's intentions are "difficult to ascertain" and that she was not aware of a done deal to divide Iraq and create a haven for terrorists. Rather, she said, she is concerned about the possibility that partitioning Iraq could lead to such an outcome.
Top secret, or thoughts as fact?
University of Minnesota political scientist Kathryn Pearson, who specializes in Congress, said Bachmann's original statement was "extremely irresponsible."
"Members of Congress are privy to intelligence that the rest of the public isn't. So when a member of Congress says something of such significance, the first assumption is that she knows something that the public doesn't. So on that basis, people are going to take it seriously.
"Either this is top secret information that she's leaking, which is a problem. Or she's presenting her thoughts on a very serious topic as if they were established fact, and that's a problem for other reasons," Pearson said.
Washington University Prof. Steve Smith, another Congress watcher who lives in the Sixth District, said Bachmann's first statement "was a pretty strong claim to make. If she can't back it up she should be held accountable."
Smith speculated the original statement was drawn from some ideas circulating in "the neoconservative network in which she circulates."
The idea of partitioning Iraq into separate enclaves for the Shiites in the south, the Kurds in the north, and the Sunni Arabs in the middle is a policy option that has been gaining adherents recently, notably Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Joseph Biden.
The neoconservatives who have been the strongest backers of the Iraq war policy have always opposed the idea of partition, in part because they fear it will create a Shiite Iraqi state heavily influenced by Iran.
Bachmann, who has also been a strong supporter of the war policy, may have picked up a version of these worries that included the idea that Iran had already worked out a plan to capitalize on any partition.
"But it's the kind of claim she couldn't possibly get from official sources," Smith said. "So it has to be unofficial sources, but if this is the basis for her public position on the war, then she's under some obligation to name her sources."