Fresh criticism of stance by Blair


Political reaction: Tony Blair has come under fresh fire from Labour left-wingers for denying a link between the Iraq war and the London bombings, after one suspected bomber in the failed July 21st attacks reportedly told police he was motivated by the conflict.

The British prime minister has insisted repeatedly he does not believe the war is behind the attacks in Britain last month. Senior Whitehall officials vigorously defended that view in the face of renewed criticism.

One said: "We don't know whether this guy has said what he is reported to have said, so we are not going to respond formally. But the prime minister has gone as far as he can go in saying that of course people will use Iraq as an excuse, but it is only an excuse. It is not the root cause of the problem.

"The root cause is that these people, whatever symptom it appears in, are fundamentalist in their viewpoint. They use Israel-Palestine, they use Afghanistan, they use Iraq as their justification. What they do not want is any western presence in the Middle East." Italian newspapers reported over the weekend that Hussain Osman, one of the four suspected bombers, who was arrested in Rome on Friday, told police the group was motivated by anger over the US-led war in Iraq, rather than religion.

"Rather than praying, we had discussions about work, politics, the war in Iraq," Mr Osman said, telling of gatherings in a gym in Notting Hill, according to La Repubblica. The suspected bombers watched films, "especially those in which you saw women and children killed and exterminated by the British and American soldiers, or widows, mothers and daughters crying".

There was no official verification of his remarks, but the reports prompted fresh accusations from some in the Labour party that Mr Blair was unwise to dismiss a link with the war.

"This just confirms the blindingly obvious," said Peter Kilfoyle, Labour MP for Liverpool Walton and a former defence minister.

"You cannot dismiss the war in Iraq from the overall view on terrorism here in the UK. If you have young Muslims being fed a daily diet of death and destruction, they're bound to feel outrage. It doesn't justify bombings, but it is my belief that Blair and the government remain in denial."

John McDonnell, Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, who chairs the socialist campaign group in the Commons, said it was "intellectually unsustainable" for Mr Blair to dismiss Iraq as a factor. "If opinion shows Iraq is a motivating force, it needs to be taken into account."