Iraq invasion led to wave of terror plots in Britain
Published 21/07/2010 | 05:00
The invasion of Iraq triggered a massive upsurge in terrorist activity against Britain, the former head of MI5 revealed last night.
Eliza Manningham-Buller said the security service had been forced to seek a doubling of its budget as it struggled to cope with the volume of plots generated in the aftermath of the invasion in 2003.
Giving evidence to the official inquiry into the conflict, she said ministers had been warned that the launch of military action against Iraq would lead to a heightened prospect of attack by al-Qa'ida. However, she acknowledged that MI5 had been slow to appreciate that the main threat would come from "home-grown" terrorists.
Ms Manningham-Buller, who is the only member of the intelligence agencies to give evidence to the inquiry in public about their work, was scathing about the way intelligence was used to make the case for war.
The evidence of Saddam Hussein's supposed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) had been "fragmentary", she said. She also dismissed Tony Blair's argument that action had been necessary to prevent them falling into hands of terrorists.
Ms Manningham-Buller disclosed that MI5 had refused to contribute to the British government's dossier on Iraqi WMD in 2002 and she criticised the way the invasion had shifted attention away from the al-Qa'ida threat in Afghanistan.
The toppling of Saddam had, she suggested, given al-Qa'ida a foothold in Afghanistan for the first time. "Arguably we gave Osama bin Laden his Iraqi jihad," she said.
Her comments were echoed by the head of the Royal Navy at the time of the invasion, Admiral Alan West, who had described the military action as "foolhardy".
Ms Manningham-Buller said that MI5 had assessed as early as 2002 that Iraqi agents in the UK would not pose much of a threat in the event of action against Saddam.
"That turned out to be the right judgment. That is partly as a result of the action we took," she said.
The agency had, however, warned ministers through the assessments of the Joint Intelligence Committee, Britain's senior intelligence body, that an invasion would lead to an increased threat from al-Qa'ida.
While they had seen a build- up of terrorist activity following the September 11 attacks in the United States in 2001, she said the threat had increased "substantially" in the wake of the military intervention in 2003.
She suggested that "a whole generation of young people" had been "radicalised" by what they saw as an attack on Islam, before quickly correcting herself to say: "Not a whole generation -- a few among a generation."