[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/07/23/art.mccainiraq.ap.jpg caption="McCain's comments came in an interview with CBS."](CNN) - Barack Obama's campaign is seizing on a incorrect assertion by rival John McCain that the surge of troops in Iraq was responsible for spurring the so-called "Anbar Awakening" - in which Sunni leaders stepped up their efforts to battle Al Qaeda operatives.
The McCain campaign responded that Democrats are attempting to diminish the role U.S. troops have played in stabilizing the country over the last 18 months.
McCain's initial comments came in an interview with CBS Tuesday night, during with the Arizona senator was asked about Obama's argument that a Sunni revolt against Al-Qaeda and the addition of U.S. troops both played a vital role in diminishing violence in the country.
Election Center: Where McCain, Obama stand on Iraq
"I don't know how you respond to something that is as - such a false depiction of what actually happened," McCain said. "Colonel MacFarland was contacted by one of the major Sunni sheiks. Because of the surge we were able to go out and protect that sheik and others. And it began the Anbar awakening. I mean, that's just a matter of history."
But Obama's campaign noted McCain's timeline is off. It has been well documented that the “awakening” he referred to got under way in September of 2006, close to four months before the surge policy was implemented. McCain himself used the in-progress Sunni uprising in January of 2007 to advocate the surge policy.
Responding to charges McCain had misspoken, spokesman Tucker Bounds reiterated the campaign’s position that the surge was "responsible for the reduction in violence we have seen over the last year and a half."
"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," Bounds also said.
"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," he added.