A heavy `blood price'

Published : Jul 29, 2005 00:00 IST

Prime Minister Tony Blair listens to U.S. President George W. Bush at the G8 Summit venue in Gleneagles, Scotland after the explosions. - CHIRS YOUNG/REUTERS

Prime Minister Tony Blair listens to U.S. President George W. Bush at the G8 Summit venue in Gleneagles, Scotland after the explosions. - CHIRS YOUNG/REUTERS

Britain pays the inevitable price for securing its special relationship with the United States, and the bombings will certainly lead to more calls for the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq.

WITH the "inevitable" terrorist attack having taken place in London, there is the predictable talk about the need for the world to unite against the menace of international terrorism. World leaders have in one voice condemned the cowardly attacks against the innocent civilian population. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who was in Scotland at the time to attend the Group of Eight summit, suggested that countries believing in "democracy and the rule of law should join hands to fight the scourge resolutely and unitedly". Western leaders used similar language to condemn the explosions in Central London on July 7.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in a public address soon after the coordinated attacks, emphasised that the "determination to protect our values and our way of life is greater than their determination to cause death and destruction to innocent people in a desire to impose extremism in the world". However, it was Blair who told the BBC, ahead of the United States-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, that Britain must be prepared to pay "a blood price" to secure its special relationship with the U.S.

There is speculation that the London bombings will lead to more vociferous calls for the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq and could hasten the much-predicted demise of Tony Blair from the political scene.

Osama bin Laden has specifically named Britain as a target for Al Qaeda's reprisals ever since the aggression on Iraq began. In November 2003, bomb attacks on the British consulate and the HSBC Bank headquarters in Istanbul left several people, including a British diplomat, dead. Spain and Australia were also targeted by terrorists for their military support to the U.S. The 10 coordinated bombings of four commuter-packed trains in Madrid in March 2004 led to the withdrawal of the Spanish troops from Iraq. The October 2002 attack on Australian tourists in Bali has evidently not led to a rethink in Canberra on its Iraq policy.

The outspoken anti-war Member of Parliament, George Galloway, while condemning the London attacks as "despicable", said Londoners had paid the price for their government's policies on Iraq and Afghanistan. He told the House of Commons that it was the U.S.-led coalition's actions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay that had infuriated the Muslim world. Galloway, whose views are now shared by many prominent Britons, said that the terrorist attacks did not "come out of a clear blue sky". The West was repeating the same mistakes with "war and occupation as the principal instrument of our foreign and defence policy", he said. Earlier in a statement, Galloway said that people like him, along with the security services of the country, had argued "that the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq would increase the threat of terrorist attacks on Britain. Tragically, Londoners have now paid the price of the government ignoring such warnings".

The organisation, "the Secret Organisation of Qaida-al-Jihad in Europe", which claimed responsibility for the attacks, said in a statement that Britain was targeted for its role in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has also given an ultimatum to Italy and Denmark, which are among the few countries that still have their troops stationed in Iraq. The group said that if the two countries did not pull out their troops they too would face similar attacks. The Italian government was quick to reiterate that it was sticking to its plans for withdrawing completely from Iraq.

After the initial "shock and awe" created by the clinically planned attacks, there is a growing realisation among Western policy-makers and commentators that the primary aim of Al Qaeda and many groups that have sprung up in recent years claiming allegiance to it, is to expel the occupation forces from the countries they have occupied militarily and politically.

The Qaida al-Jihad (Base for Holy War) was formed in 2001, after Ayman al Zawahari, the leader of the Egyptian terrorist group al Jihad al Islami, merged his organisation with Al Qaeda. Al Zawahari had, in a videotape released on June 16, ominously said that "expelling the marauder Crusader and Jewish forces cannot be done through demonstrations and horse voices". The fact that the number of suicide bombings and other forms of terrorist attacks has increased dramatically since the invasion of Iraq illustrates this. During the long rule of the secular Ba'ath regime, there was not a single suicide-bombing incident in Iraq. Today, it is happening with chilling regularity. There were 50 cases of suicide bombings in the first five months of this year alone in Iraq.

Osama bin Laden had, in his October 29, 2004, speech on videotape, said that the results of the American invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq and the targeting of Islamic militants worldwide had helped his cause. He said that "these developments have been positive and enormous, and have by all standards, exceeded all expectations." As the recent events in London show, it has been easy for Al Qaeda to recruit and expand. Groups or individuals, who are angry at the occupation of Iraq, can now launch direct attacks, without being in touch with Al Qaeda.

Bin Laden had emphasised on several occasions that he considered "terror" an important weapon in the fight against the U.S. and its allies. "Terror is the most dreaded weapon in the modern age. It can add fear and helplessness to the psyche of the people of Europe and the United States. You can understand as to what will be the performance of the nation in a war, which suffers from fear and helplessness." Bin Laden had even spoken about his strategy of "bleeding America into bankruptcy". He even said that the "youth of Islam" would target key sectors of the Western economy "until you stop your injustice and aggression or until the more short-lived of us die".

Ayman al Zawahari had said in a broadcast in September 2003: "The Americans are facing a delicate situation in Iraq and Afghanistan. If they withdraw, they will lose everything and if they stay, they will continue to bleed to death." Osama bin Laden's logic that he is waging "a defensive jihad to protect our land and our people", obviously is now finding more takers, if the growing number of attacks on Western targets is any indication. "If Muslims do not have security, the Americas will also not have it. This is a very simple formula - live and let live". Bin Laden said that it was "unfair" that Americans should live in peace while Muslims should be living in conflict.

"We don't do body counts," U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld commented when asked about the civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. has refused to give an honest account of the deaths of innocent civilians in these two countries. "The innocents in the so-called war on terror are always our citizens or the citizens of our allies. The only innocent Iraqis are those killed by insurgents. But this posturing of America as the great innocent, when everyone knows we kill innocents ourselves, is likely to make us look more like the devil in the eyes of a suicide bomber," American columnist Derrick Z. Jackson wrote in an article in The Boston Globe of July 8.

Bin Laden had said in one of his speeches: "The time has come for us to be equal. Just as you kill, you are killed. Just as you bombard, you are bombarded."

A former Central Intelligence Agency official, Michael Scheur, who was in charge of monitoring Osama bin Laden, said that Al Qaeda's major goal is the removal of Western forces from the Arabian peninsula. According to him, its other goals are the removal of American forces from all Muslim lands and the end of U.S. protection for "repressive, apostate Muslim regimes" such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait. Ominously, another Al Qaeda demand, according to Michael Scheur, is the end of American support "for the oppression of Muslims by Russia, China and India".

Most analysts are of the opinion that although it could be difficult for Al Qaeda to hit high-value targets in mainland U.S., its track record has shown that it has been quite successful in achieving its goals in Europe and Asia. "Of the 20 nations Al Qaeda had threatened, 18 have been attacked, a 90 per cent correlation," Michael Scheur wrote in 2004. With the attack on London, this success rate has evidently improved.

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