Page last updated at 15:07 GMT, Thursday, 14 July 2005 16:07 UK

London bombs: The Iraq question

By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website

Downing Street's dossier setting out all "significant terrorist attacks associated with al-Qaeda" around the globe over the past dozen years is, by any measure, a sobering document.

Soldiers in Iraq
UK troops remain in Iraq
Over two closely-typed A4 pages it lists 31 separate attacks starting with the first bombing of New York's World Trade Center in February 1993 - in which six were killed and over 1,000 injured. It ends with the London atrocities.

In between, it details attacks including the four month bombing campaign in France in 1995, the assaults on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, 11 September and the Bali bomb in 2002.

The cover page states the dossier: "Does not include all terrorist attacks. Some of those listed were directly linked to Bin Laden or other al-Qaeda leaders, but many were conducted by terrorists inspired by al-Qaeda.

"During this period several planned attacks which might have led to significant loss of life have also been prevented, most notably a planned attack on Strasbourg Christmas market in December 2000 and other attacks planned a year earlier against targets in the US and Jordan."

The aim is simple. To show, as the prime minister has insisted, that there is no link between the war on Iraq and the terror attacks across the world, including Britain.

"I think the one thing that is very obvious from the long list of countries who have been victims of this type of terrorism is that it does not greatly discriminate in terms of individual items of policy," he has told MPs.

Middle East

It certainly succeeds in driving home the appalling loss of life and the breadth of the terror campaign on countries across the world, countries whose foreign policies certainly vary hugely.

Whether it disproves the notion that the Iraq war increased the likelihood of terrorist attacks, particularly in the UK, or recruitment of terrorists is another matter.

London bomb site
Kennedy: No "causal link"

That remains a question which keeps surfacing, albeit carefully phrased, in Westminster and elsewhere.

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy has stated that, while he sees no "causal link" between the Iraq conflict and the London attacks: "We have to recognise the occupation of Iraq by the multinational force itself contributes to the insurgency and attracts those from abroad who see the opportunity to spread violent fundamentalism."

Labour backbenchers Peter Kilfoyle and Bob Wareing have suggested a direct link between the war and the likely recruitment of terrorists.

Other warnings

Respect MP George Galloway sparked ministerial anger when he suggested the London attacks were the price for the war on Iraq.

And Scottish Nationalist leader Alex Salmond has asked the prime minister if he agrees with Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi that the US, UK and Italy were more exposed to terrorism because of their leaders' support for the war.

Alex Salmond
Salmond has started the debate
What links all these voices is their anti-war stance, leading their critics to suggest "they would say that wouldn't they".

But there have been other warnings both before and since the invasion.

During the original Commons debate on Iraq before the war, in February 2003, former Labour minister Frank Dobson said he feared: "Military action in Iraq will be a principal recruiting sergeant for terrorism."

Mr Dobson's London constituency was the site of some of the bomb attacks.

In that same debate, Liberal Democrat Simon Hughes argued the risk of terrorism was most likely to be precipitated by US-UK action against Iraq.

His view was supported by ex-Tory minister Douglas Hogg and former Conservative leadership contender Kenneth Clarke.

Military action

In an interview after the war, Mr Clarke declared: "We have to make sure that the occupation of Iraq is not the basis for recruitment of lots of wild young men into extremist terrorist groups all over the Muslim world."

Tony Blair
Blair rejects any link with Iraq war
His comments came after the powerful Foreign Affairs committee of MPs reported in July 2003: "Al-Qaeda's stance on Iraq may encourage some misguided individuals to try to commit terrorist acts."

Former Labour minister Clare Short, who resigned over the war, had told the committee in evidence that the invasion had led to a "very large" number of recruits to the al-Qaeda network.

In February of the following year the same committee reported: "The war in Iraq has possibly made terrorist attacks against British nationals and British interests more likely in the short term."

And it was later revealed that, before the war, the Joint Intelligence Committee had also warned that military action against Iraq would "heighten", rather than reduce, the terrorist threat to western interests.

What the prime minister believes, however, is that the terrorists had, in effect, already declared war on the west.

His actions since then, specifically the war on Iraq, have been designed to avert what he says is his greatest fear - the coming together of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism.

In that, he argues, he is left with no other sensible course of action than to meet the threat head on in the determination to win the war on terror, no matter how long it may take.

And it is that view of the world which the release of the dossier is intended to support.

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