Straw backs down on denial of Iraq link
JACK Straw, the Foreign Secretary, yesterday stepped back from his earlier denials that the war on Iraq had nothing to do with the terror attacks in London.
The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was believed to be incensed at Mr Straw's refusal to admit that the two events could be linked last week, as he believed this clashed with wider public opinion.
Political sensitivities over the bombings are at an all-time high and were underlined by a poll which showed that support for Mr Blair's handling of the crisis had dropped by 14 per cent in just two weeks.
Yesterday, Mr Straw said he did not rule out the possibility that Iraq may have increased the threat of terrorism for Britain. "It is impossible to say for certain," he told BBC radio. However, Mr Straw stressed that bombings and terrorist atrocities had been carried out long before the war on Iraq or Afghanistan.
High-level Cabinet meetings were held last week to discuss the potential political fall-out from further attacks in London.
Mr Blair was also alarmed at the comments from Mr Straw that there had been no connection between terrorism and the war in Iraq.
While the Prime Minister said that Britain would have been a terrorist target even without Britain's involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, he feared Mr Straw's remarks may have gone too far.
The Foreign Secretary himself is believed to regret his earlier statements, telling friends he did not intend to be so dismissive of the link.
Mr Straw's predecessor, Robin Cook, however, did not mince his words. Yesterday he claimed that the invasion of Iraq had "undoubtedly" boosted terrorism around the world.
The former foreign secretary also warned that the government would have to acknowledge that link if ministers wanted to bring young British Muslims on side.
Intelligence agencies had warned the Prime Minister ahead of the war that the invasion would increase the threat to Britain, Mr Cook said.
"The problem is that we have handed al-Qaeda an immense propaganda gift, one that they exploit ruthlessly," he told the BBC News 24 Sunday programme.
"There have been more suicide bombings in the two years since we invaded Iraq than in the 20 years before it. Yes, it has happened around the world.
"I don't think you can make a simple link between any one event and Iraq, but undoubtedly it has boosted terrorism."
While Mr Cook refused to say that the bombings would not have happened if Britain had stayed out of the war, he stressed that the problem of terrorism had worsened.
It was now crucial for Mr Blair to reduce tensions in the Muslim community and one way of doing this was to set a timetable for the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq.
"The Muslim leaders who, quite rightly, are being asked to confront fundamentalism and fanaticism in their own community are also entitled to say to Tony Blair: 'You have got to help us by removing the issues that contribute to the tension,' because if there is one issue that makes it difficult for young Muslims to support this government it is Iraq," he said.
The Prime Minister was initially praised for his response after the first bombings on 7 July but confidence in his handling of the crisis since has dwindled.
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