Clarke attacks Iraq war in leadership bid
KENNETH Clarke yesterday laid out an audacious bid to shift the Conservatives to an anti-war agenda, as he launched a blistering attack on Tony Blair using arguments previously deployed by Labour rebels.
In the first speech of his leadership campaign, the former chancellor said the "disastrous" decision to invade Iraq was a catastrophic error that has made Britain a foremost target for Islamic extremists.
He also accused Mr Blair of seeking to blame "mad mullahs" for the London transport attacks. Such extremists were symptoms, he said, of a problem inflamed by the Iraq war.
In a speech which injected life into the Conservative Party leadership race, Mr Clarke, 65, delivered a powerful and bruising critique of the "war on terror" - saying the Prime Minister must be the only person left who thinks it is unconnected with the London bombs.
"The disastrous decision to invade Iraq has made Britain a more dangerous place," he said. "I would have accepted this increased risk as the price of going to war if I had believed we were driven to go to war for a just cause."
But he made it clear that he did not believe the Iraq war was just, and that "the reasons given to parliament for joining the invasion were bogus".
And just as the invasion of Iraq inflamed terrorist opinion, he said, new anti-terror laws risk radicalising British Muslims.
Mr Clarke made caustic references to George Bush, the US president. "I share the late Robin Cook's suspicions that the Bush administration hope to pull out most of their troops in whatever way they can before next year's US mid-term elections," he said.
He warned that "US military tactics are alienating moderate Iraqi opinion", adding that Mr Blair should be a "candid friend" to the United States.
It drew an immediate response from other likely contenders. Allies of Sir Malcolm Rifkind pointed out that he, too, opposed the Iraq war - but, unlike Mr Clarke, he also opposed the euro.
David Cameron said that he did support the war in Iraq - but his campaign was focused on positive issues, such as the need for better quality of life.
He gave a speech calling for tax breaks for childcare.
David Davis remained silent yesterday. He and Liam Fox are both pro-war, and will fight as centre-right candidates. Both intend to launch their campaigns next week.
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