Innocent people across the world are now paying the price of the “Iraq effect”, with the loss of hundreds of lives directly linked to the invasion and occupation by American and British forces.
A US study of terrorist attacks after the invasion in 2003 contradicts the repeated denials of George Bush and Tony Blair that the war is not to blame for an upsurge in fundamentalist violence worldwide. The research is said to be the first to attempt to measure the “Iraq effect” on global terrorism. It found that the number killed in jihadist attacks around the world has risen dramatically since the Iraq war began in March 2003. The study compared the period between 11 September 2001 and the invasion of Iraq with the period since the invasion. The count – excluding the Arab-Israel conflict – shows the number of deaths due to terrorism rose from 729 to 5,420. As well as strikes in Europe, attacks have also increased in Chechnya and Kashmir since the invasion. The research was carried out by the Centre on Law and Security at the NYU Foundation for Mother Jones magazine.
Iraq was the catalyst for a ferocious fundamentalist backlash, according to the study, which says that the number of those killed by Islamists within Iraq rose from seven to 3,122. Afghanistan, invaded by US and British forces in direct response to the September 11 attacks, saw a rise from very few before 2003 to 802 since then. In the Chechen conflict, the toll rose from 234 to 497. In the Kashmir region, as well as India and Pakistan, the total rose from 182 to 489, and in Europe from none to 297.
Two years after declaring “mission accomplished” in Iraq President Bush insisted: “If we were not fighting and destroying the enemy in Iraq, they would not be idle. They would be plotting and killing Americans across the world and within our borders. By fighting these terrorists in Iraq, Americans in uniform are defeating a direct threat to the American people.”
Mr Blair has also maintained that the Iraq war has not been responsible for Muslim fundamentalist attacks such as the 7/7 London bombings which killed 52 people. “Iraq, the region and the wider world is a safer place without Saddam [Hussein],” Mr Blair declared in July 2004. Announcing the deployment of 1,400 extra troops to Afghanistan earlier this week – raising the British force level in the country above that in Iraq – the Prime Minister steadfastly denied accusations by MPs that there was any link between the Iraq war an unravelling of security elsewhere.
Last month John Negroponte, the Director of National Intelligence in Washington, said he was “not certain” that the Iraq war had been a recruiting factor for al-Qa’ida and insisted: “I wouldn’t say that there has been a widespread growth in Islamic extremism beyond Iraq, I really wouldn’t.”
Yet the report points out that the US administration’s own National Intelligence Estimate on “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States” – partially declassified last October – stated that ” the Iraq war has become the ’cause célèbre’ for jihadists … and is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives.”
The new study, by Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank, argues that, on the contrary, “the Iraq conflict has greatly increased the spread of al-Qa’ida ideological virus, as shown by a rising number of terrorist attacks in the past three years from London to Kabul, and from Madrid to the Red Sea.
“Our study shows that the Iraq war has generated a stunning increase in the yearly rate of fatal jihadist attacks, amounting to literally hundreds of additional terrorist attacks and civilian lives lost. Even when terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan is excluded, fatal attacks in the rest of the world have increased by more than one third.”
In trying to gauge the “Iraq effect”, the authors had focused on the rate of terrorist attacks in two periods – from September 2001 to 30 March 2003 (the day of the Iraq invasion) and 21 March 2003 to 30 September 2006. The research has been based on the MIPT-RAND Terrorism database.
The report’s assertion that the Iraq invasion has had a far greater impact in radicalizing Muslims is widely backed by security personnel in the UK. Senior anti-terrorist officials told The Independent that the attack on Iraq, and the now-discredited claims by the US and British governments about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, had led to far more young Muslims engaging in extremist activity than the invasion of Afghanistan two years previously.
Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, head of the Secret Service (MI5) said recently: “In Iraq attacks are regularly videoed and the footage is downloaded into the internet.
“Chillingly, we see the results here. Young teenagers are being groomed to be suicide bombers. The threat is serious, is growing and will, I believe, be with us for a generation.”
In Afghanistan the most active of the Taliban commanders, Mullah Dadullah, acknowledged how the Iraq war has influenced the struggle in Afghanistan.
“We give and take with the mujahedin in Afghanistan”, he said. The most striking example of this has been the dramatic rise in suicide bombings in Afghanistan, a phenomenon not seen through the 10 years of war with the Russians in the 1980s.
The effect of Iraq on various jihadist conflicts has been influenced according to a number of factors, said the report. Countries with troops in Iraq, geographical proximity to the country, the empathy felt for the Iraqis and the exchange of information between Islamist groups. “This may explain why jihadist groups in Europe, Arab countries, and Afghanistan were more affected by the Iraq war than other regions”, it said.
Russia, like the US, has used the language of the “war on terror” in its actions in Chechnya, and al-Qa’ida and their associates have entrenched themselves in the border areas of Pakistan from where they have mounted attacks in Kashmir, Pakistan and India.
Statistics for the Arab-Israel conflict also show an increase, but the methodology is disputed in the case of Palestinian attacks in the occupied territories and settler attacks on Palestinians.
PATRICK COCKBURN is the author of ‘The Occupation: War, resistance and daily life in Iraq‘, a finalist for the National Book Critics’ Circle Award for best non-fiction book of 2006.