Last Thursday's bombings were not unexpected. Senior police officers had often warned that an attack in Britain was inevitable, a prediction they repeated as recently as last month. What the police officers and others did was to connect the dots, examining where coordinated explosions had occurred since the build-up to the Iraq war.
Three bombs exploded in Bali, Indonesia, on 12 October 2002, causing 202 deaths. Most of the victims were tourists from Australia, which was one of the four countries that invaded Iraq in March 2003.
On 11 March 2004, 10 bombs went off in trains in Madrid, killing 191 people. Spain's then Prime Minister Jo Maria Aznar had backed President George W. Bush in his plans to invade Iraq, and was with Bush and Tony Blair when the final decision was taken.
If the line connecting these two dots was to be extended, the police and intelligence chiefs appeared to conclude that its path would take in the dot that is Britain. The UK contributed proportionately more to the invasion of Iraq than did the US (a third of the total military force compared to a tenth of the Pentagon's).
In the post-war Iraq, Britain continues to deploy the second-largest force there after the US, with whom it shares the status of being an occupying power.
Equally vital was Britain's contribution in the diplomatic arena. When it came to convincing the world at large of Saddam Hussein's allegedly malevolent plans, Blair produced a dossier to establish that Iraq was producing weapons of mass destruction. He and Bush thought a British document would carry more weight in the Middle East.
The failure of the Anglo-American occupiers to find WMDs in Iraq, or find a link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qa'ida, has been well documented. What is less well understood is how all this looks to the jihadist -- both Arab and non-Arab -- of a caste of mind to believe that that Bush and Blair are using the cover of fighting terrorism to attack Muslim countries. North Korea reportedly possesses atomic bombs. It is on the US State Department's list of countries that support international terrorism, as well as having an appalling human rights record. So why have Bush and Blair not attacked North Korea yet?
Simple: it is not a Muslim country, say the Islamists. It is a broad-brush argument, but is no less potent for that.
The Anglo-American alliance compounded its problems by showing scant understanding of the history of Iraq. Today, jihadists are drawn to Iraq not only because it is occupied, but also because Iraq represents an ancient and powerful idea of Arab culture and history. After all, Baghdad was, almost uninterruptedly, the capital of the Islamic empire from 750 to 1258.
Baghdad also holds the tomb of Abu Hanifa al-Numan (699-767), the founder of the Hanafi Code of Islamic law, the largest sub-sect among Sunnis. And the tomb of Ali in Najaf is sacred to both Shias and Sunnis. To Shias, he is Imam Ali; to Sunnis he is Caliph Ali. Instead of focusing on finishing the onerous task of decimating al-Qa'ida and its associates in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border areas -- in which Bush and Blair had the support of the international community -- they embarked on the illegal venture of invading Iraq, which has helped create an even more menacing swamp for breeding extremists. Among those who reached this conclusion is Richard Clarke, who served as the counter-terrorism chief for 10 years under both presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush. "I doubt that anyone had the chance to make the case to Bush that attacking Iraq would make America less secure and strengthen the broader radical Islamist movement," he wrote. "Certainly he did not hear that from the small circle of advisers who alone are the people whose views he respects and trusts." If no one warned Bush, the same cannot be said of Blair. He was explicitly told by the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee that attacking Iraq would make Britain more likely to be attacked. He may claim, as he did yesterday, that there's no connection because Russia (which opposed the invasion of Iraq) has been the victim of terrorism, forgetting that the Chechnya problem, being domestic, does not involve the posting of foreign troops in that territory. He also pointed to the Bali bomb, as if he wasn't aware that the big target were visitors from a pro-war nation.
Like it or not, Mr. Blair, what people will remember is that you listened to the advice you liked and ignored the rest. That is why London was bombed on Thursday. It isn't very complicated.
Dilip Hiro is based in London, writes regularly for the New York Times, The Observer, The Guardian, The Washington Post and the Nation magazine, and is a frequent commentator on CNN, BBC, and Sky TV. His most recent books are Secrets and Lies: Operation “Iraqi Freedom” and After (Nation Books, 2004) and The Iranian Labyrinth (Nation Books, forthcoming). Thanks to Carl Bromley at Nation Books.
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