Leading article: Bali reminds us of the real issues in the war on terror

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The Independent Online

The Prime Minister argues that the perverted al-Qa'ida ideology preaches hate of the West for its very existence. His supporters will point out that the original Bali attack was in October 2002, before the war in Iraq - although others would argue that by then the conflict was inevitable. It is clear, however, that the global coverage of the war in Iraq since March 2003 has helped in the recruitment of jihadis and increased the number of al-Qa'ida-inspired terrorist attacks.

More and more, the invasion of Iraq has been demonstrated to be counter-productive in fighting the real "war on terror". It is not simply that it has diverted attention and resources from the police, intelligence and diplomatic work of penetrating and disabling jihadist networks.

Iraq has not simply been a distraction; it has made the terrorist threat worse. No sooner had an international coalition closed down Osama bin Laden's base in Afghanistan than the US, supported by Britain and Australia but few others, created a bigger and better training ground for al-Qa'ida in Iraq. In so doing, they expanded greatly the pool of Muslim resentment on which al-Qa'ida could draw.

Of course George Bush, or Tony Blair or John Howard, the Australian Prime Minister, were not motivated by a desire to oppress Muslims. But it was entirely foreseeable, and foreseen, that occupying Iraq would be perceived as such by large numbers of Muslims around the world. For a war fought to reduce the threat of terrorism, this was an unforced, self-defeating error.

It is a grim consolation that it could be so much worse. In comparison with the international reach and death toll of 11 September 2001, jihadist terrorism has been limited since. Of the 24 significant attacks since then, only Madrid and London have been outside Muslim countries. It is, fortunately, extremely difficult for al-Qa'ida sympathisers to kill thousands in western cities. But yesterday's terrible bombs should be a warning against complacency, and a salutary reminder that, until the mistake of the Iraq war is acknowledged, there can be little hope of reducing the threat from jihadist terrorism.

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