Kennedy says war in Iraq has increased the terrorist threat

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Indy Politics

The Liberal Democrat leader said in a keynote foreign policy speech yesterday: "The way we went to war in the first place, as well as the mismanagement of the aftermath, have fuelled the conditions in which terrorism flourishes."

He added: "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. And the terrorist certainly will not shrink from using Iraq to increase resentment and as fodder for recruitment."

Mr Kennedy insisted he was not implying a "causal link" between Britain's involvement in Iraq and last Thursday's terrorist attacks. "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," he said.

But he became the first figure in the three major parties to make the link between the bombings and the Iraq war. He argued: "Iraq and 9/11 were two different and distinct security issues. But now we have the worst of both worlds. An unstable Iraq, free of the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, but facing the tyranny of the suicide bomber - and a training ground for terrorists who had no purchase in that country before."

He recalled that the Joint Intelligence Committee had warned Mr Blair before the conflict that the threat of terrorism would be heightened by war in Iraq, which he described as Britain's biggest foreign policy mistake since the 1956 Suez crisis. Renewing his party's call for a phased withdrawal of coalition troops from Iraq, he said: "We have to recognise the occupation of Iraq ... itself contributes to the insurgency and attracts those from abroad who see the opportunity to spread violent fundamentalism."

Mr Kennedy outlined four planks in his party's policy of "principled internationalism" - being pro-European but pro-reform; supporting and developing international law and institutions; focusing on international development; and caring for the environment.

Downing Street insisted it was "naive" to link the war and last week's bombings. Mr Blair's spokesman said: "This kind of terrorism was active long before the Iraq war. 9/11 was in September 2001, not 2003. Other attacks on various interests, including those of the US, again they were before the Iraq war. So it is not right in any way to suggest that this kind of terrorism was spawned by the Iraq war."

Mr Kennedy's remarks reflect a simmering debate among Labour MPs. Many of those who opposed the war believeit has made London a terrorist target. Anti-war MPs are expected to speak out on Saturday when the left-wing umbrella group the Labour Representation Committee holds a conference in London.

John McDonnell, its chairman and Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, said: "Now is not the time to enter into a strident political debate over the background to the bombings, but there will shortly come a time when we need to stand back and have an objective examination of how we've reached this point ... Not just the impact of the recent war in Iraq but the long-term role of the West in the Middle East."