By ANDREW MIGA
The Associated Press
Wednesday, December 13, 2006; 2:22 AM
WASHINGTON -- Sen. John Kerry, whose botched joke about U.S. troops in Iraq dealt a blow to his presidential ambitions, will travel to Iraq this weekend to meet with soldiers, political leaders and military officials.
"I've talked to plenty of guys who've come back from Iraq, who are there now, who understand exactly what happened," Kerry said of his joke in a telephone interview Tuesday with The Associated Press. "They laugh at it."
The Iraq stop will be part of a nine-day Mideast trip that includes stops in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Israel.
A week before the midterm elections, Kerry told a group of California students that individuals who don't study hard and do their homework would likely "get stuck in Iraq." He said he meant to say "get us stuck in Iraq," but the botched joke intended to criticize President Bush forced the senator to apologize and then lay low for the remaining days of the campaign.
The Massachusetts senator, who was widely criticized for the quip, said he'd be happy to apologize to any soldiers he encounters in Iraq who don't understand what happened.
"For anybody who misunderstood (the joke) or got only the White House presentation of it, I'd apologize, obviously," he said.
Kerry will spend the latter part of his trip with a potential presidential rival and fellow member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Christopher Dodd of Connecticut. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, considered the Republican front-runner in the 2008 race, also plans a trip to Iraq.