Saturday, September 8th 2007, 4:00 AM
SIOUX CITY, Iowa - Freshly minted GOP White House hopeful Fred Thompson puzzled Iowans yesterday by insisting an Al Qaeda smoking ban was one reason freedom-loving Iraqis bolted to the U.S. side.
"They said, 'You gotta quit smoking,'" Thompson explained to a questioner asking about progress in Iraq during a town hall-style meeting.
Thompson said the smoking ban and terror tactics Al Qaeda used to oppress women and intimidate local leaders pushed tribes in western Anbar Province to support U.S. troops.
But Thompson's tale of a smokers' revolt baffled some in the audience of about 150 who came to decide whether the former Tennessee senator is ready for prime time.