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Analysis: Blair's Iraq link problem

Out of the limelight.

London (UPI) July 22, 2005
One of the noticeable differences between Thursday's failed terror attempts on the British capital and the bombings that claimed 56 lives exactly two weeks earlier was the relative absence of Prime Minister Tony Blair from the public airwaves.

After issuing a statement during a news conference with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, in London for talks, the British premier disappeared, returning, he said, to his normal schedule of events.

While this may have been an effort to minimize disruption and maintain public calm, it came in marked contrast to the day of the July 7 blasts, when there was little respite from the torrent of public statements and news conferences.

Of course this was not the only difference. Thursday's attempts -- taking place, as those two weeks ago, on three underground trains and a bus -- were largely unsuccessful, with devices only partially detonating and only one person suffering injuries.

However Blair may have been avoiding the public gaze for an entirely different reason. Having enjoyed a brief period of public and political acclaim for his show of strength in the immediate aftermath of the July 7 attacks, he is now facing mounting charges that Britain's role in the Iraq war increased the threat of such attacks, and that he, as the instigator of that policy, must take at least some of the blame.

Speaking in Downing Street as confusion engulfed the city, Blair denied the bombings were linked to the Iraq war and abrogated any responsibility, saying the "people who are responsible for doing these things are the people who do them."

"What they want us to do is to turn round and say oh, it is our fault," he said. "The people who are responsible for terrorist attacks are the terrorists, and this combination of this evil bankrupt ideology based on a perversion of Islam with terrorism."

He was backed by his Australian counterpart, who said no country could allow its foreign policy to be determined by terrorism.

"Can I remind you that the murder of 88 Australians in Bali took place before the operation in Iraq; and could I remind you that the 11th of September occurred before the operation in Iraq; can I also remind you that the very first occasion that (Osama) bin Laden specifically referred to Australia was in the context of Australia's involvement in liberating the people of East Timor.

"Are people, by implication, suggesting that we shouldn't have done that? When a group claimed responsibility on the website for the attacks on 7 July, they talked about British policy, not just in Iraq, but in Afghanistan. Are people suggesting we shouldn't be in Afghanistan?"

He added: "We lose sight of the challenge we have if we allow ourselves to see these attacks in the context of particular circumstances, rather than the abuse through a perverted ideology of people and their murder."

However it appears that while Blair may have the support of coalition leaders such as Howard and U.S. President George W. Bush, among the public, opposition politicians and even his own party, it is fast dissipating.

Speaking at a Westminster forum just hours before the attempted explosions shut down the city's transport system, Mark Fisher, Labor member of Parliament for central Stoke-on-Trent, said Blair was "in complete denial" over the role of the Iraq war in the London bombings.

"There's hardly a person in this country outside Downing Street that understands that remark (that it is unconnected) at all, except that he daren't think anything else, he is so steeped in his policy of commitment to Bush and to Washington that he cannot afford for his own sanity (to think otherwise). "

"Everybody else can see this but we cannot get through to him.... Even those members of our party (who voted for the war) think he's crazy."

The Iraq invasion had created "exactly the circumstances in which young Muslim minds can be turned," he said.

Seeing horrific images from Iraq, Abu Ghraib Prison and Guantanamo Bay day after day, it would be "extraordinary" for people not to be angry, he said. And such anger made them "ripe" for extremism, he added.

Conservative Shadow Attorney General Dominic Grieve agreed, saying he did not ascribe to the prime minister's view and that the war in Iraq was "bound to be relevant."

There was a great strength of feeling that the Muslim world was being "assailed" by the West, he said, a perception that came from a long history of Western interference.

"Clearly there is a sense of grievance. And grievance is a very corrosive human phenomenon, we shouldn't be surprised if people end up as suicide bombers, if in fact they are living in an environment where on a day to day basis anger constantly corrodes the soul. I have to say I think the Muslim community, many of them are angry to a greater or lesser degree."

Even within the security services it appears there is recognition of the Iraq connection.

John Hart, commissioner of the City of London police, also said there might be a link to the British presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to the "perceived injustices" against the Islamic world.

"It's not a reason, it's not a justification for what happened," said Yunis Dudhwala, a multifaith manager at Newham hospital, East London. But "it adds up," and provided fodder for those who already feel alienated and excluded, he said.

Several representatives of the Muslim community said unfair targeting of Muslims by police was further alienating the community.

Irfan Taylor, a community development officer from Newham, said the Muslim community felt they were subject to a disproportionate use of stop and search powers.

"You're not going to get British Muslims on your side (until police understand) that you can't just stop anyone because of the color of their skin," he said.

The government's attempts to engage with the Islamic community also came in for criticism, with several speakers saying the Muslim leaders invited to a Downing Street summit earlier in the week were not representative.

Dudhwala claimed the Muslim Association of Britain had not been entertained in Downing Street because of their opposition to the Iraq war. There was a sense that the government was "cozying up" to people who fitted their agenda, he said.

It is not only with the Muslim community and members of the political classes that Downing Street appears to be out of tune.

An ICM poll for the Guardian newspaper published earlier this week found that 64 percent think Blair was to some degree responsible for the bombings, 33 percent "a lot " of responsibility, 31 percent "a little."

Such figures supersede those in the Muslim community; when Communicate Research conducted a poll of British Muslims for Sky News, 61 percent thought the Iraq was to blame.

However those who engage in the "root causes" arguments, clearly unpalatable to Downing Street, make a clear distinction between Iraq as a motivating factor and as a justification. The atrocities have received widespread public and political condemnation, while the Sky News poll found 91 percent of Muslims were opposed to the bombings, and 88 percent said there was no justification in the Koran.

But what is becoming increasingly clear is that the public is demanding a more-nuanced debate than the government is at present prepared to provide. Blair's characterization of terrorism as simply an "evil ideology" with absolutely no political motivation beyond "excuses" does not sit well with a public that has watched horrific abuses being perpetrated in the name of the war on terror with increasing anger.

Blair will never acknowledge that the Iraq war has in any way contributed to increasing the terrorist threat against Britain. To do so would be political suicide. But he may find that in the longer term, not doing so is just as deadly.

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Indicators Show Progress Toward Stable Iraq, DoD Report States
Washington DC (SPX) Jul 21, 2005
Terrorists in Iraq have been unable to derail the political process, a new Defense Department report on Iraqi stability and security states. Still, the report contends, insurgents "remain capable, adaptable, and intent on carrying out attacks."







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