LONDON – An Iraqi connection was conspicuously missing from the first statements British Prime Minister Tony Blair made on the bomb blasts in London Thursday last week. But new developments suggest a powerful link between the British invasion and occupation of Iraq and the bomb attacks.
A friend of the three suicide bombers of Pakistani origin, Shahzad Tanweer, Mohammed Sadique Khan and Hasib Hussain has said that the three often spoke of Muslims being unfairly targeted in Iraq. The link has been officially dismissed, but it did provide indication that Iraq was on the mind of the terrorists, and those who recruited them.
Three bombings on the London Underground and one on a bus left 52 dead and about 700 injured July 7.
That quiet suggestion seemed to give weight to claims made emphatically in Parliament earlier by George Galloway MP from the Respect Party. Galloway has been the most strident critic of the Iraq war within the British Parliament.
"It is absolutely clear that Islamist extremists, inspired by the al-Qaeda world outlook, are responsible," Galloway said immediately after the blasts. But the terrorist attacks must be seen against their political backdrop, he said.
"Does the House not believe that hatred and bitterness have been engendered by the invasion and occupation of Iraq, by the daily destruction of Palestinian homes, by the construction of the great apartheid wall in Palestine and by the occupation of Afghanistan?" Galloway said. "Does it understand that the bitterness and enmity generated by those great events feed the terrorism of bin Laden and the other Islamists? Is that such a controversial point? Is it not obvious?"
The link is not being raised because British leaders are in a "consensual bubble", he said.
Galloway, who was formerly Labour Party MP, said: "When I was on the Labour Benches and spoke in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, I said that I despise Osama bin Laden. The difference is that I have always despised him. I did so when the Government, in this very House, gave him guns, money and encouragement, and set him to war in Afghanistan. I said that if they handled that event in the wrong way, they would create 10,000 bin Ladens. Does anyone doubt that 10,000 bin Ladens at least have been created by the events of the past two and a half years? If they do, they have their head in the sand."
Iraq is getting worse, not better, he said. "There are more people being killed in Iraq now than there were before. More military operations are being conducted by the Iraqi resistance than before. Last Saturday alone, 175 military operations were mounted by the Iraqi resistance on one day."
Galloway said British leaders seem to care little for the killing in Iraq. "Many Members of Parliament find it easy to feel empathy with people killed in explosions by razor-sharp red-hot steel and splintering flying glass when they are in London, but they can blank out of their mind entirely the fact that a person killed in exactly the same way in Falluja died exactly the same death … I know that for many people in the House and in power in this country the blood of some people is worth more than the blood of others."
Charles Kennedy, leader of the Liberal Democrat party which has been gaining strength in relation to the Labour Party and the Conservative Party said at a lecture that the Iraq war and "the mismanagement of the aftermath have fueled the conditions in which terrorism flourishes." He pointed to pre-war intelligence that the threat of terrorism "would be heightened, not diminished, by war in Iraq."
Kennedy did not, however, explicitly blame this policy for the London attacks. "I am not here implying some causal link between Britain’s involvement in Iraq and the terrible terrorist attacks in London last week. Not at all. The mass murderers who attacked London last week did not need Iraq as an excuse. The blame for the deaths in London falls firmly on their shoulders and on their shoulders alone."
But he said: "Those like President Bush and Tony Blair, who have sought to link Iraq with the so-called ‘war on terror’ can hardly be surprised when members of the public draw the same link when acts of terrorism occur here in the United Kingdom."
There was evidence also of a strong perception with police circles that the Iraq war would only encourage acts of terrorism. The Sunday Times carried a leaked dossier from the Prime Minister’s office suggesting the link.
The dossier which was prepared before the July 7 bomb attacks in London says the Iraq war has been a key cause behind bringing young British Muslims to terrorism.
"It seems that a particularly strong cause of disillusionment among Muslims, including young Muslims, is a perceived ‘double standard’ in the foreign policy of western governments, in particular Britain and the U.S.," the dossier says. "The perception is that passive ‘oppression,’ as demonstrated in British foreign policy, e.g. non-action on Kashmir and Chechnya, has given way to ‘active oppression.’ The war on terror, and in Iraq and Afghanistan, are all seen by a section of British Muslims as having been acts against Islam."
Blair has continued to dismiss the Iraq connection. The 9/11 attacks came in 2001, and not 2003 (when Iraq was invaded), he said. But emerging indications suggest that the Iraq war and occupation may at least in part have encouraged the terrorist attacks.