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Iraq: the week the truth was told (except by Tony Blair)
President George Bush is forced to release a secret US intelligence report that says the Iraq war has increased the threat of terrorism

  • An MoD think-tank, aided by MI6, says the Iraq war has served as a "recruiting sergeant" for extremists in the Muslim world
  • Former foreign secretary Jack Straw tells Question Time the situation in Iraq is "dire" because of Bush's mistakes
  • The PM again refuses to countenance that the war in Iraq has increased Islamic terrorism, and the threat to Britain

London Independent / Rupert Cornwell | September 30 2006

Secret intelligence assessments and public statements by former senior officials, the evidence presented in influential new books and in a simmering generals' revolt against the Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, all deliver the same message: the Anglo-American war of choice, the invasion of a sovereign country in March 2003 not only was founded on false pretences. It also created more problems than it has solved.

In London, Jack Straw, foreign secretary at the time, described the present state of Iraq, where 50,000 or more civilians have died since 2003, as "dire". On the BBC programme Question Time, Mr Straw admitted he regretted various elements of the war.

"Many mistakes" had been made by the US in the aftermath of the invasion, and the efforts of General Colin Powell's State Department to install a "proper civilian administration" were not followed through (stymied, it should be said, by a then ascendant Pentagon and by Vice-President Dick Cheney).

The day before, a research paper from the Ministry of Defence in London, which delivered a scathing indictment of the ISI, Pakistan's intelligence service, over Afghanistan and the Taliban, also produced an judgement on the international ramifications. The Iraq war had served as a "recruiting sergeant" for extremists, and had helped to radicalise an already disillusioned youth. "Al-Qa'ida," said the document, "has given them the will, intent, purpose and ideology to act." It also claimed a deal to pull British troops from Iraq to focus on Afghanistan foundered when UK commanders were overruled.

The MoD quickly claimed that the paper, for the Ministry's Defence Academy, did not reflect official views. Unfortunately, its central conclusion was identical to the findings of a US document leaked last week.

A National Intelligence Estimate, drawn up by the National Intelligence Council, is the most authoritative study produced by the 16-agency US intelligence community. It said the war had become the "cause célèbre" for jihadists, "breeding a deep resentment of the US involvement in the Muslim world, and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement".

Worse was to follow. "The underlying factors fuelling the spread of the movement outweigh its vulnerabilities and are likely to do so for the duration of the [five-year] time-frame of this estimate." In plain English, the problem is going to get worse before it gets better.
The following day, General Pete Schoomaker, chief of the US Army general staff, had taken the astonishing step of withholding a 2007-08 Army budget request because the ceiling imposed by the Mr Rumsfeld and the Pentagon's civilian leadership was inadequate for what was being asked of the Army in Iraq.

Another point is made in a 537-page book by Bob Woodward, the Washington Post reporter with unparalleled sources in the Bush administration. Mr Woodward, whose previous books post-9/11 have been notably uncritical of the Bush administration, this time tells of how it dismissed requests from its own officials that more troops be sent in September 2003, to help quell an insurgency less deep-rooted than it is now.

State of Denial paints a picture of a President convinced of his rightness, and of a White House and Pentagon unconcerned with coherent planning for the post-invasion phase. It also provides a tantalising glimpse of father-and-son differences over the war.

Mr Woodward writes that Barbara Bush confided to a friend that her husband George HW Bush, the 41st President was deeply concerned by the war. "He is certainly worried, and he's losing sleep over it. He's up at night worried," Barbara is quoted as saying.

Mr Woodward has accused the administration of playing down the number of attacks against US troop. He says there are 800 a week. Twice, he says, Mr Bush has refused to sack Mr Rumsfeld.

In Iraq, more than 70 per cent of Iraqis believe the presence of US troops is causing more problems than it solves, and want the 144,000-strong force withdrawn within 12 months. Hardly a ringing mandate from the people on whose behalf the lives of 2,700 American servicemen have been expended.

In America, too, the political game may be up for Republicans. Democratic strategists believe the unpopularity of the Iraq war, and a growing public belief that it has been mishandled, outweighs any criticism Republicans may hurl in their direction about being "soft on terror".


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