Iraq war increased the threat of attacks, says Major

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His intervention is a setback to Tony Blair's attempt to play down any link between the London bombings and the Iraq conflict. Sir John told BBC Radio 4 yesterday: "I think what has happened is not that the Iraq war and other policies created that threat, I think it was there and growing, though it was not in full bloom.

"I think it is possibly true that it has made it more potent and more immediate, but having said that, there is absolutely no doubt that we were going to have to confront terrorism at some time. And what I suppose you might say about the events of the Middle East is that they have brought it forward and brought it into focus."

Mr Blair came under more pressure as France urged Britain and the United States to tackle "open wounds" such as Iraq by international agreement to prevent Islamic jihadists indoctrinating their followers.

Dominique de Villepin, the French Prime Minister, pledged closer co-operation with Britain in the war on terrorism at Downing Street talks with Mr Blair. But he added: "These terrorists base their action around several crises - Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq. We for our part need to take account of those crises, because the more these crises can be restricted the more we will have the greater possibility of denying the terrorists any legitimacy of basing their acts on these events.

"We should co-operate together to face up to terrorism, and at the same time we ought to try and co-operate to find political resolutions to conflict, to tackle wherever there are open wounds in the international scene."

At a joint press conference with M. de Villepin, Mr Blair said: "I don't doubt that [terrorists] will use these issues wherever it suits them to use them, but nothing can excuse or justify what they have done and if you look at the roots of this they are far, far deeper."

He added: "If the concern was genuinely for people in Iraq or people in Afghanistan, or indeed people in Palestine, they would be helping these countries become proper democracies, instead of which the same terrorist ideology is killing people there in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Turkey, in Egypt, in any country they decide to make a target."

After ministers strongly denied any link between Iraq and the London bombings last week, the Government has started to adopt a softer line after opinion polls showed that the public do not find their denials credible.

A YouGov survey yesterday found that 62 per cent of people believe that Iraq did contribute to the reasons behind the atrocities and 23 per cent think it is the main reason. Only 12 per cent believe there is no link.

The Government's line has been undermined by last week's report by the Chatham House think-tank, which said the war had boosted al-Qa'ida's propaganda, recruitment and fund-raising, and a leaked assessment by the Joint Terrorist Analysis Centre a month before the 7 July attacks warning that "events in Iraq are continuing to act as motivation and a focus of a range of terrorist-related activity in the UK".