Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
Opinion Editorials, August 2015
Foreign Policy and Terrorism:
The Lethal Legacy of Tony Blair
By David Morrison
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, August 5, 2015
Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller was the Director General of M5, the UK’s domestic intelligence agency, from October 2002 until April 2007, that is, for a few months before the US/UK invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and for four years afterwards while the US/UK were occupying Iraq.
On 20 July 2010, she gave evidence to the Iraq inquiry chaired by Sir John Chilcot. She was asked “to what extent did the conflict in Iraq exacerbate the overall threat that your Service and your fellow services were having to deal with from international terrorism?” She replied: “Substantially” (p24-5).
Later, she said there was hard evidence of the increased threat, for instance “numerical evidence of the number of plots, the number of leads, the number of people identified, and the correlation of that to Iraq and statements of people as to why they were involved” (p34).
Because of this, even though MI5’s budget had been increased in 2001 and in 2002, she told the inquiry:
“By 2003 I found it necessary to ask the Prime Minister for a doubling of our budget. This is unheard of, it's certainly unheard of today, but he and the Treasury and the Chancellor accepted that because I was able to demonstrate the scale of the problem that we were confronted by.” (p27)
So, let there be no doubt about it, according to the Director General of MI5 at the time, al-Qaeda activity in Britain increased “substantially” because of Britain’s participation in the invasion of Iraq. This activity included the London bombings of 7 July 2005, in which 52 people were killed and more than 700 were injured.
If Britain had not participated in the invasion of Iraq, it is highly unlikely that such an upsurge in al-Qaeda activity in Britain, including the London bombings, would have occurred. Stating that is not a justification for the London bombings or any other attacks. It is simply a statement of fact.
Tony Blair on London bombings
Yet Tony Blair, the Prime Minister who authorised the doubling of MI5’s budget to cope with this upsurge, refuses to acknowledge that Britain’s participation in the invasion of Iraq was responsible. He was at pains to do so once again on the tenth anniversary of the London bombings on 7 July 2005. For example, on LBC radio on 6 July 2015, he was “interviewed” by his former cabinet colleague, Tessa Jowell, who asked:
“What do you say to those people now who say that the causes of 7/7, and indeed subsequent terrorist attacks, can all be traced back to our involvement in the invasion of Iraq?”
In a typically wandering reply (full text below), he points out that states such as Belgium and Norway, amongst others, which hadn’t participated in the invasion of Iraq, had been subject to terrorist attacks. And he invites listeners to believe that this constitutes proof that the substantial increase in al-Qaeda activity in Britain post March 2003 was not a response to British military intervention in Iraq, despite the fact that MI5 perceived the increase to be so.
In this, he doesn’t allow for the blindingly obvious possibility that perpetrators of terrorist acts have different motivations: thus Anders Breivik who killed 77 people in Norway in July 2011 was a white racist, opposed to Muslim immigration into Norway, and the individual who killed four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in May 2014 seems to have been driven by anti-semitism – and the upsurge in al-Qaeda activity post March 2003 was in response to the invasion of Iraq.
He went on to say on LBC:
“This is a global problem … we're not going to allow anyone to excuse themselves by saying that the slaughter of totally innocent people is somehow a response to any decision by any government.”
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that he is simply determined to avoid his personal responsibility for a decision to support US military action in Iraq, as an unintended consequence of which al-Qaeda activities in Britain increased “substantially” with murderous effect on 7 July 2005.
Although Tony Blair was the leading advocate for military action against Iraq, it should be remembered that the House of Commons voted overwhelmingly (412 to 149) for it on 18 March 2003. The opposition came from 84 of his own Labour MPs and 52 Liberal Democrats, plus nationalists from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. By contrast, he had near unanimous support from the official Conservative opposition, its leader at the time, Ian Duncan Smith, being particularly enthusiastic.
House of Commons inadequately informed
A case can be made that the House of Commons was inadequately informed about the probable consequences of military action and might have voted differently had MPs been properly informed, especially about the flimsy nature of the intelligence that Iraq possessed so-called “weapons of mass destruction” (see my pamphlet Iraq: Lies, Half-Truths & Omissions, published in November 2003).
Another matter that Tony Blair kept from the House of Commons was that the UK intelligence services gave advanced warning that the threat to Britain from al-Qaeda was likely to be “heightened” by the proposed military action against Iraq. This warning was contained in a formal assessment by the UK’s Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) in February 2003, entitled International Terrorism: War with Iraq. This sought to evaluate how al-Qaeda related groups would react to the impending US/UK invasion of Iraq.
Aspects of this assessment came into the public domain in September 2003, when the House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) published its report, Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction – Intelligence and Assessments. In paragraph 126, this ISC report stated:
“The JIC assessed that al-Qaeda and associated groups continued to represent by far the greatest terrorist threat to Western interests, and that threat would be heightened by military action against Iraq.”
Blair didn’t tell the House of Commons of this intelligence warning, when he moved the war motion in the House of Commons on 18 March 2003.
Furthermore, a significant part of the Prime Minister’s case that day was that there was “a real and present danger” that chemical and biological weapons would find their way from Iraq to al-Qaida or associated groups unless Iraq was disarmed of these weapons. However, he somehow omitted to tell the House of Commons that the JIC assessment he had received a few weeks earlier warned that “in the event of imminent regime collapse there would be a risk of transfer of such material, whether or not as a deliberate Iraqi regime policy” (ISC report, paragraph 126).
MI5 chief confirms that the Government was warned in advance
When she gave evidence to the Chilcot inquiry, Baroness Manningham-Buller confirmed that the Government was warned in advance that there was likely to be a “heightened” threat from al-Qaeda as a result of British participation in the invasion of Iraq. She agreed that her judgment prior to the invasion was that “a war in Iraq would aggravate the [terrorist] threat from whatever source to the United Kingdom” (p31) and that “there wasn't any particular controversy amongst the intelligence agencies about that judgment” (p32).
This was communicated to the Government through JIC assessments and, in her case, directly to the Home Secretary (who was David Blunkett at the time) to whom the head of MI5 reports. If Ministers read JIC assessments she said “they can have had no doubt” that, in the opinion of the intelligence services, the projected invasion of Iraq would increase the threat to Britain from al-Qaeda.
Warning borne out by events
As we have seen, this warning by the intelligence services was amply borne out by events after the invasion, as demonstrated by Baroness Manningham-Buller in evidence to the Chilcot inquiry.
Asked by Sir Roderic Lyne (one of the four members of the inquiry committee) “how significant … a factor was Iraq compared with other situations that were used by extremists, terrorists, to justify their actions”, she replied:
“I think it is highly significant … . By 2003/2004 we were receiving an increasing number of leads to terrorist activity from within the UK and the -- our involvement in Iraq radicalised, for want of a better word, a whole generation of young people, some British citizens -- not a whole generation, a few among a generation … saw our involvement in Iraq, on top of our involvement in Afghanistan, as being an attack on Islam.
“So although the media has suggested that in July 2005, the attacks on 7/7, that we were surprised these were British citizens, that is not the case because really there had been an increasing number of British-born individuals living and brought up in this country, some of them third generation, who were attracted to the ideology of Osama bin Laden and saw the west's activities in Iraq and Afghanistan as threatening their fellow religionists and the Muslim world.
“So it undoubtedly increased the threat and by 2004 we were pretty well swamped -- that's possibly an exaggeration -- but we were very overburdened by intelligence on a broad scale that was pretty well more than we could cope with … .” (p18-20)
Asked by Sir Roderic “overall, looking at the sort of two, three, four years after the conflict began in 2003 … to what extent did the conflict in Iraq exacerbate the overall threat that your Service and your fellow services were having to deal with from international terrorism”, she replied: “Substantially”. (p24-5). She said there was hard evidence for this, for instance “numerical evidence of the number of plots, the number of leads, the number of people identified, and the correlation of that to Iraq and statements of people as to why they were involved, the discussions between them as to what they were doing” (p34)
Later, she added:
“The fact is that the threat increased, was exacerbated by Iraq, and caused not only my Service but many other services round the world to have to have a major increase in resources to deal with it. In 2003, having had an upgrade in resources after 9/11, which my predecessor agreed, and … another one … in 2002, by 2003 I found it necessary to ask the Prime Minister for a doubling of our budget. This is unheard of, it's certainly unheard of today, but he and the Treasury and the Chancellor accepted that because I was able to demonstrate the scale of the problem that we were confronted by.” (p26-7)
So, there is no doubt whatsoever that al-Qaeda activity in Britain increased “substantially” as a result of Britain’s participation in the invasion of Iraq – and had been predicted to do so.
MI5 website says ‘Iraq a dominant issue’
When London was bombed on 7 July 2005, the rest of the political establishment joined Tony Blair in asserting that it was wrong to think that the bombers had been motivated by the invasion of Iraq. Remarkably, at the same time, a page on the MI5 website, headed THREAT TO THE UK FROM INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM, stated straightforwardly:
“Iraq is a dominant issue for a range of extremist groups and individuals in the UK and Europe.”
This simple message remained on the MI5 website for the next couple of years.
Interview by Tessa Jowell with Tony Blair (LBC radio, 6 July 2015)
TJ: What do you say to those people now who say that the causes of 7/7, and indeed subsequent terrorist attacks, can all be traced back to our involvement in the invasion of Iraq?
TB: One of the most important things to do is to look at things in the bigger context. I mean, 9/11 in New York was probably the first really large scale terrorist attack and obviously we had certain foreign policy responses to that. The problem is that even those countries that didn’t, for example participate in Iraq at all - like France - are now subject to these attacks. You see them most recently in Tunisia but you see even countries like Belgium or Norway, who are countries who have no real foreign policy presence, are also subject to this.
At a certain point we have got to realise that this is a global problem. You see it in Africa, you see it in the Far East, you see in Central Asia and, of course, you see it in the Middle East. And the only way of dealing with it ultimately is for people to come together, whatever their faith background, and say we're united against this terrorism and to say we're not going to allow anyone to excuse themselves by saying that the slaughter of totally innocent people is somehow a response to any decision by any government. It’s the responsibility of those who carry out those acts of terrorism and those who incite them.
( * * * )
It is worth noting that Tony Blair expressed a very different view in his resignation speech in Sedgefield on 10 May 2007, when according to a Guardian report he said:
“Removing Saddam and his sons from power, as with removing the Taliban, was over with relative ease, but the blowback since, from global terrorism and those elements that support it, has been fierce and unrelenting and costly.”
There he seems to accept that the slaughter of innocent people on 7 July 2005, and on other occasions, were consequences (albeit unintended) of US/UK military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, from which it follows that without these military interventions the murderous blowback from “global terrorism” would almost certainly never have occurred.
Share this article with your facebook friends
Opinions expressed in various sections are the sole responsibility of their authors and they may not represent Al-Jazeerah & ccun.org.
email@example.com & firstname.lastname@example.org