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UK blasts: The Iraq factor

August 04, 2005 17:05 IST
It would now be increasingly hard to argue that even if the War in Iraq is not the sole motivation for recent acts of terrorism, it must still be a major contributory factor behind the suicide bomb attacks in London.

This would appear to be a clear and understandable fact to most observers, but any such linkage is still being vigorously denied by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Tony Blair was forced on to the defensive over the London bomb attacks for the first time on July 19,  when a leaked threat assessment from the Joint Terrorist Analysis Centre (JTAC) --an integral part of the British Security Service, MI5 --specifically warned less than a month before the July 7 attacks that 'events in Iraq are continuing to act as motivation and a focus of a range of terrorist-related activity in the UK.'

The report, leaked to The New York Times also said 'at present there is not a group with both the current intent and the capability to attack the UK,' a flawed conclusion that only increased the pressure on the intelligence community to explain its failure to anticipate the possibility that the capital would be a prime terrorist target on the opening day of the G8 summit in Gleneagles.

Nor is the JTAC assessment alone in establishing a link between the bombing of London and the Britain's involvement in Iraq.

Chatham House, previously known as The Royal Institute of International Affairs (RIIA) and an internationally respected foreign affairs think-tank, stated in a new report that the war in Iraq had boosted Al Qaeda.

The Chatham House report also highlights the growing problems the Security Services have when it rather bluntly says that Britain's ability to carry out counter-terrorism measures has been hampered because the US is always in the driving seat in deciding policy.

'US alliance puts UK at risk'

It goes on to claim that Britain's security efforts have been severely hampered as 'Riding pillion with a powerful ally has proved costly in terms of British and US military lives, Iraqi lives, military expenditure and the damage caused to the counter-terrorism campaign.'

The most politically sensitive finding however concludes there is 'no doubt' the invasion of Iraq has 'given a boost to the Al Qaeda network' in 'propaganda, recruitment and fundraising,' while providing an ideal targeting and training area for terrorists.

Blair has strenuously denied such a claim and senior ministers have responded to these arguments by saying that the attacks on New York and Washington on September 11 2001 pre-dated the Iraq war and that the 'root causes' of Al Qaeda terrorism are non-negotiable, such as the existence of the state of Israel.

The war in Iraq: complete coverage

Critics have pointed out however that while the Iraq war is not necessarily the root cause of this new threat of home-grown terrorism, it may well have intensified the threat, as the JTAC assessment appears to conclude.

Interestingly it emerged during the Hutton inquiry into David Kelly's death that the prime minister had been warned by the intelligence services that the planned invasion of Iraq could increase the terrorist threat to Britain. The leaked JTAC report was therefore simply the first official post-war confirmation of a probable link between the Iraq war and terrorist activity in Britain.

Just ten days after the first wave of bombing, former Labour Cabinet minister Clare Short insisted that she 'had no doubt' the July 7th London bombings were linked to Iraq and Palestine. Interviewed on GMTV, Short said: 'We are implicit in the slaughter of large numbers of civilians in Iraq and supporting a Middle East policy that for the Palestinians creates this sense of double standards -- that feeds anger.'

In a further damaging attack on the prime minister's position, the Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, John McDonnell and Chair of the Campaign Group of Labour MPs, said it was 'intellectually unsustainable' to say the war in Iraq had not motivated the London bombers.

'For as long as Britain remains in occupation of Iraq, the terrorist recruiters will have the argument they seek to attract more susceptible young recruits to the bomb team. Britain must withdraw now,' he said.

By the 19th July an opinion poll in The Guardian newspaper was able to report that two-thirds of Britons now believed that there was an identifiable link between Tony Blair's decision to invade Iraq and the recent London bombings despite the government claims to the contrary.

The poll found that that some 75 percent of voters believed that further attacks in Britain by suicide bombers were also inevitable.

But despite the mounting evidence that a link exists and that the 'the government is losing the battle to persuade people that terrorist attacks on the UK have not been made more likely by the invasion of Iraq' Blair has continued to lay the blame for the terrorist attacks simply on the 'twisted teaching' of Islam and put the onus on Muslim leaders to defeat such an 'evil.'

The buck stops with Blair

The British government is still in denial that the bombings have any connection with the invasion of Iraq or its involvement in the US-led war on terrorism. The close alliance with the United States and Britain's involvement in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq may not justify terrorism, but they are an added motivation.

Many Muslims would argue that the empty threat posed by Saddam Hussein's non-existent WMD provided little or no justification for the eventual invasion of Iraq and the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians.

It is often conveniently forgotten that Al Qaeda in its original form was an American creation. Trained, equipped and directed by the CIA, Osama Bin Laden's murderous organisation tortured and killed countless young Russian conscripts unlucky enough to have been posted to Afghanistan. Al Qaeda was certainly not unwilling to also kill and maim large numbers of Afghan civilians in pursuit of America's regional interests.

'Blasts will put Britain on its toes'

Nor is Al Qaeda the only organisation linked to terrorism to have a US paymaster. Even allowing for Indonesia, Zaire and countless tin-pot Latin American military dictatorships, one country in particular stands out.

Pakistan and its despised secret service, the ISI have a long history of actively supporting so-called 'freedom fighters'.

What in fact the Pakistan authorities armed were the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Kashmiri Islamic fighters who are responsible for decades of terrorism inside Indian territory and the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians in the World's largest democracy.

Yet the government in Islamabad is treated as one of Washington's closest allies in the War on Terror.

Hypocrisy on this scale practiced by the supposed leader of the free world is not a pretty sight, nor is it the basis for a successful foreign policy. Britain by virtue of its uncritical and unwavering support for American actions risks becoming a major victim of an Islamic backlash.

While Iraq is a motivation for terrorism it is certainly not the main cause.

The occupation of Arab lands; the aggressive acquisition of Arab oil; the plight of Palestinian refugees housed in squalid camps for some 55 years; Israel's bloody invasion of the Lebanon and its later attempts to suppress the Palestinian intifada; the lack of a truly even handed Western policy on the Middle East's fundamental problems; Afghanistan; Iraq and the threat to Iran all provide the driving force behind the upsurge of Islamic terrorism. It is fair to suggest that terrorism, unless linked to a poplar political movement has never succeeded in its stated aims the long run.

However it is equally correct to say that the defeat of terrorism is only ensured by winning over the 'hearts and minds' of the extremist's potential supporters and with a policy as free of blinkered unreality and hypocrisy as possible.

While there can never be an acceptable justification for acts of terrorism, there can be no escaping the fact of a link between the British government's actions in the Middle East and the reaction of Muslim extremism.

Any further denial by Tony Blair or his ministers will only make them appear ever more foolish and increasingly out of touch with both reality and the majority of the British people.

Richard M Bennett