AP uncritically reported McCain claim that terrorists “will follow us home” from Iraq -- experts disagree

An April 26 Associated Press article uncritically reported Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) assertion that if the United States withdraws its troops from Iraq, “terrorists 'will follow us home.' ” Experts, however, reportedly disagree with that assertion: According to an April 6 McClatchy Newspapers article, “Military and diplomatic analysts” say that a similar claim repeatedly made by President Bush -- that “this is a war in which, if we were to leave before the job is done, the enemy would follow us here” -- “exaggerate[s] the threat that the enemy forces in Iraq pose to the U.S. mainland.”

McCain made his assertion in discussing the then-upcoming Senate vote on the Iraq war supplemental funding bill while campaigning in South Carolina. The AP reported that McCain said, “If we leave Iraq there will be chaos, there will be genocide, and they will follow us home.”

According to the McClatchy article, “U.S. military, intelligence and diplomatic experts in Bush's own government say the violence in Iraq is primarily a struggle for power between Shiite and Sunni Muslim Iraqis seeking to dominate their society, not a crusade by radical Sunni jihadists bent on carrying the battle to the United States.” The article reported that, according to a February 2007 Defense Intelligence Agency report, “Attacks by terrorist groups account for only a fraction of insurgent violence.” The article also reported that "[w]hile acknowledging that terrorists could commit a catastrophic act on U.S. soil at any time -- whether U.S. forces are in Iraq or not -- the likelihood that enemy combatants from Iraq might follow departing U.S. forces back to the United States is remote at best, experts say."

Moreover, the McClatchy article reported, the Iraq war itself may be inspiring more Muslims to turn against the United States. " 'The war in Iraq isn't preventing terrorist attacks on America,' said one U.S. intelligence official, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because he's contradicting the president and other top officials. 'If anything, that -- along with the way we've been treating terrorist suspects - may be inspiring more Muslims to think of us as the enemy.'"

From the April 26 Associated Press report:

Republican presidential contender John McCain predicated [sic] Thursday as the Senate prepared to vote on a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq that terrorists “will follow us home.”

McCain, who was campaigning in this early voting state and didn't plan to vote on the bill containing the withdrawal timetable, said the consequences of withdrawal would be severe.

“If we leave Iraq there will be chaos, there will be genocide, and they will follow us home,” the Arizona senator said, calling the war against al-Qaeda “a struggle between good and evil.”

On Wednesday, the House brushed aside a veto threat and passed legislation that would order President Bush to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq by Oct. 1.