Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has yet to say anything about Monday’s heinous, nihilistic suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England. According to current reporting, the attack has been claimed by ISIS and was carried out by a 22-year-old man born in Manchester to Libyan refugees.
But when Blair does speak, we can be certain he won’t mention one key fact: Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq led by the U.S. and U.K., he was forcefully and repeatedly warned by Britain’s intelligence services that it would lead to exactly this type of terrorist attack — and he concealed these warnings from the British people, instead claiming the war would reduce the risk of terrorism.
We know this because of the Chilcot Report, the seven-year-long British investigation of the Iraq War released in 2016. The report declassifies numerous internal government documents that illustrate the yawning chasm between what Blair was being told in private and his claims in public as he pushed for war.
On February 10, 2003, one month before the war began, the U.K.’s Joint Intelligence Committee — the key advisory body for the British Prime Minister on intelligence matters — issued a white paper titled “International Terrorism: War With Iraq.”
The threat from Al Qaida will increase at the onset of any military action against Iraq. They will target Coalition forces and other Western interests in the Middle East. Attacks against Western interests elsewhere are also likely, especially in the US and UK, for maximum impact. The worldwide threat from other Islamist terrorist groups and individuals will increase significantly.
And it concluded much the same way:
Al Qaida and associated groups will continue to represent by far the greatest terrorist threat to Western interests, and that threat will be heightened by military action against Iraq. The broader threat from Islamist terrorists will also increase in the event of war, reflecting intensified anti-US/anti-Western sentiment in the Muslim world, including among Muslim communities in the West. [emphasis added in both cases]
The same report concluded that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq “would aspire to conduct terrorist attacks against Coalition interests” only in the event of an invasion. Moreover, “authoritative reporting suggests that Iraqi Intelligence (DGI) has little reach or [terrorism] capability outside Iraq.”
Specifically regarding WMD terrorism, the JIC elsewhere judged that Iraq “would be unlikely to undertake or sponsor such terrorist attacks,” that the threat of it if Iraq were not invaded was “slight,” and that there was no “credible evidence of covert transfers of WMD-related technology and expertise to terrorist groups.”
Tony Blair’s case for war, as most clearly expressed in his March 18, 2003 remarks in the House of Commons, essentially turned all of this on its head. The possibility, Blair said, of terrorist groups obtaining WMD from a state like Iraq was “a real and present danger to Britain and its national security.”
“The real problem,” Blair proclaimed, “is that, underneath, people dispute that Iraq is a threat, dispute the link between terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, and dispute, in other words, the whole basis of our assertion that the two together constitute a fundamental assault on our way of life.” Blair did not mention that the people disputing this included his own intelligence services.
Then Tam Dalyell, a Labor MP from Scotland, asked Blair this key question: “What could be more calculated to act as a recruiting sergeant for a young generation throughout the Islamic and Arab world than putting 600 cruise missiles — or whatever it is — on to Baghdad and Iraq?”
Blair did not reveal the explicit warnings from the JIC that exactly this would happen. No, he told Dalyell, “Unless we take action against [Al Qaeda], they will grow. That is why we should act.” Terrorist organizations wouldn’t be motivated, as the JIC had told him, by an invasion of Iraq, because their true motivation was that “they detest the freedom, democracy and tolerance that are the hallmarks of our way of life.”
Blair’s stunningly fraudulent case for war carried the day, 412-149. The current British Prime Minister Theresa May, then a Conservative front bencher, voted for it. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn voted against.
Then exactly what the JIC had predicted occurred. Fifty-two people were killed in July 2005 when four suicide bombers — three of whom were British-born — carried out attacks on the subway and a bus in London. One of the killers taped himself stating that they were killing their fellow citizens because Western governments “continuously perpetuate atrocities against my people all over the world.” In a separate tape another said, “What have you witnessed now is only the beginning of a string of attacks that will continue and become stronger until you pull your forces out of Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Two months ago, a British-born Muslim convert murdered four people with a car on Westminster Bridge, then got out and stabbed a policeman to death. Just minutes before his killing spree he declared via WhatsApp that he was acting in revenge against Western wars in the Mideast.
And now we have the slaughter in Manchester. ISIS has declared that the attack was carried out “in order to terrorize the polytheists, and in response to their transgressions against the homes of the Muslims.”
In her testimony before the Chilcot inquiry, Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller, head of MI5 at the time of the Iraq invasion, explained all of this:
Our involvement in Iraq radicalized, for want of a better word … a few among a generation … [who] saw our involvement in Iraq, on top of our involvement in Afghanistan, as being an attack on Islam.
An increasing number of British-born individuals … were attracted to the ideology of Usama Bin Laden and saw the West’s activities in Iraq and Afghanistan as threatening their fellow religionists and the Muslim world.
If British officials had read the JIC’s warnings, Manningham-Buller said, they could “have had no doubt” that this was likely to happen.
So did Blair read the intelligence, specifically the February 2003 paper on international terrorism?
He absolutely was aware of it, Blair told the inquiry, “but I took the view then and take the same view now that to have backed down because of the threat of terrorism would be completely wrong.”
But of course this was just another brazen misrepresentation by Blair. He had not taken “the view then,” at least in public, that invading Iraq would increase the risk that Britons would die in terrorist attacks, but it would be somehow worth it. Instead he had claimed that they would be at greater risk without a war, because if left alone Saddam Hussein would enable WMD-armed terrorism.
Asked how she saw this perspective, Manningham-Buller told the inquiry that “It is a hypothetical theory. It certainly wasn’t of concern in either the short-term or the medium-term to my colleagues and myself.”
In the end, the most plausible explanation of Blair’s motivation is simply that he was willing to sacrifice the lives of British citizens so that the U.S. could continue running the world with the U.K. holding its coat. Richard Shultz, a professor of international politics at Tufts who’s long been a key national security state intellectual, wrote in 2004 that “A very senior [Special Operations Forces] officer who had served on the Joint Staff in the 1990s told me that more than once he heard terrorist strikes characterized as ‘a small price to pay for being a superpower.’”
The victims of the Manchester bombing, among them an 8-year-old girl, are that small price.