As it happened, the two principal sponsors of the invasion of Iraq, U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, were together when news came in that 27 more people had been killed in the third and fourth suicide bomb attacks in Istanbul in one week. They had to say something, and so they both tried to twist the atrocities into a justification of their decision to invade Iraq.
This would be almost funny if it wasn't so horrible, because the two incidents probably occurred because Bush and Blair invaded Iraq.
"What this latest terrorist outrage shows us is that there is a war — and its main battleground is in Iraq," said Blair. Bush picked up the theme, declaring, "Our mission in Iraq is noble and it is necessary, and no act of thugs or killers will change our resolve" — as if the men who organized the bomb attacks in Istanbul hadn't wanted the U.S. and Britain to invade Iraq, or did want them to leave now.
And the media lapped it all up, as if Bush and Blair were talking sense and the suicide bombers were "mindless killers."
In the face of the torrent of deceitful propaganda, it has to be said again and again. The invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with the "war on terrorism." The only terrorism in Iraq is that which was caused by the invasion.
The Islamist terrorists of Al Qaeda were delighted by the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. And the reason why there have been so many successful terrorist attacks in Turkey, Morocco, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines and elsewhere in recent months is probably because of the diversion of intelligence efforts to the war in Iraq.
One at a time: First, there was no more linkage between Saddam Hussein's repressive but rigorously secular regime in Iraq and the Islamist terrorists of Al Qaeda than there was between the mafia and the Khmer Rouge. There is absolutely no evidence for it, and the entire American and British intelligence establishments spent the time before the invasion of Iraq desperately signaling to their political masters (and later, off the record, to any media that would listen) that there was no such link.
They were not listened to because Bush's people were determined to have their war, and Blair — well, that's still puzzling.
But it is clear, if you watch how their lips move, that both men are conscious of having practiced a deception on the public. They regularly mention Al Qaeda and Iraq in the same breath in order to foster the illusion that there was a link, but they never actually say it in exactly so many words. Like most politicians, they know that you can fuzz, distort or evade the issue to your heart's content, but you must never tell an outright lie.
The "terrorism" in Iraq these days bears little resemblance to the almost metaphysical acts of existential hatred that struck New York and Washington two years ago and the global strategy that lay behind them.
Iraq is just the mundane, functional terrorism of anti-colonial resistance from Algeria to Vietnam, carried out for the most part by the same sort of people — ex-army officers, political ideologues, young men with big chips on their shoulders — who would be doing the same thing in the United States if foreign troops suddenly took over the country. (You doubt me? Go rent Red Dawn out of the video store.)
The Iraqis who run this resistance movement doubtless use foreign Islamist fanatics to drive the truck-bombs whenever possible — "if the kid wants to die, let's give him the chance" — but there is no known link between the war in Iraq and Al Qaeda's astonishingly ambitious project to seize control of the Arab and even the broader Muslim world. Which brings us, finally, to the question of how the invasion of Iraq has undermined the real "war on terrorism."
Islamist terrorists really exist, although almost none of them are Iraqis. They are not as numerous or rich or well-organized as the propagandists would have us believe, and the damage they can do doesn't begin to compare with what a real war does, but they are a serious danger that warrants serious attention. Trouble is, they haven't been getting it.
What matters most in a war against terrorism is intelligence.
There is a strictly limited mass of talent in Western intelligence agencies which has the technical proficiency, the Arabic language skills, and the personal attributes needed for the intelligence gathering job — maybe as few as a couple of thousand key people. They should be concentrating their efforts on Al Qaeda. For the past year, most of them have been employed instead on some aspect of the project for "liberating" Iraq (whatever that may mean) — and you can't be in two places at once.
The Islamist terrorists who plotted the attacks on two Jewish synagogues in Istanbul on Nov. 15 and on the HSBC headquarters and the British consulate in the same city yesterday, killing 50 people and injuring many hundreds, would have tried to do it whether Iraq was invaded or not.
They didn't need excuses to attack. The difference is that if the intelligence services had been paying attention to Al Qaeda instead of barking up the wrong tree in Iraq, they might actually have been stopped.
Gwynne Dyer is a Canadian journalist based in London whose articles are published in 45 countries.
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