Iraq factor returns to haunt Blair

Labour backbenchers and others insist Britain's policy in the Gulf is boosting al-Qa'ida
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Indy Politics

His words reflected a worry among ministers that public opinion will link the London terrorist attacks with the unpopular war in Iraq.

The Prime Minister's critics within the Labour Party maintained an informal truce for the first week after the bombings, avoiding reference to the Iraq war out of respect for the victims. That truce has been broken this weekend, with two Labour MPs claiming publicly that the Iraq war and the terrorist attack are linked.

But Mr Blair said: "If it is Iraq that motivates [the bombers], why is the same ideology killing Iraqis by terror in defiance of an elected Iraqi government? What was 11 Sept- ember 2001 the reprisal for?"

Addressing Labour's National Policy Forum in central London yesterday, Mr Blair insisted that although the ideology behind the bombings was "evil", it was not senseless. "It had a purpose. It was done according to a plan. It was meant," he said. "The extremist propaganda is cleverly aimed at their target audience. It plays on our tolerance and good nature. It exploits the tendency to guilt of the developed world, as if it is our behaviour that should change; that if we only tried to work out and act on their grievances, we could lift this evil; that if we changed our behaviour, they would change theirs. This is a misunderstanding of a catastrophic order."

Privately, senior members of the Government have expressed relief that the public has not reacted to the bombing by demanding that the UK pull out of Iraq. But Clare Short, who resigned from the Cabinet after the Iraq war had begun, said that she had "no doubt" that the outrage was linked to the war.

In an interview for today's GMTV programme, she added: "Some of the voices that have been coming from the Government talk as though this is all evil, and that everything we do is fine, when in fact 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."

Barely an hour before the Tony Blair spoke yesterday, John McDonnell, a left-wing critic of successive Labour leaders, told left-wing activists: "I just say to the Prime Minister and other ministerial commentators, please do not try to tell us that the war in Iraq played no part. 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 their bomb teams. Britain must withdraw now."

Mr McDonnell's speech to the Labour Representation Committee was the first public statement by a Labour MP linking the London bombing to Iraq - though similar comments have been made by the Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, and ex-Labour MP George Galloway.

A briefing paper published tomorrow by a respected think tank will also warn that Britain has laid itself open to terrorist attack by acting as a "pillion passenger" to US foreign policy. The report by Chatham House with the Economic and Social Research Council will warn that the UK is at "particular risk" of terrorist attack because of the involvement of British troops in the Afghan and Iraq wars.