Ex MI5 chief: Iraq war raised terror threat

Giving evidence to the Iraq inquiry, Baroness Manningham-Buller, chief of the intelligence agency from 2002 to 2007 said that Iraq posed little threat to Britain just before the 2003 war — but the danger of extremist attacks surged following the conflict. She also dismissed any connection between Iraq and the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States (read here the newly declassified MI5 memo).

Manningham-Buller said that in 2002, MI5 had advised Blair’s government that the “direct threat” from Iraq was “low”. She said she believed the intelligence on Iraq’s threat was not “substantial enough” to justify the action.

“We did think that Saddam Hussein might resort to terrorism in the theatre if he thought his regime was toppled but we didn’t believe he had the capability to do anything in the UK,” she said.

But MI5 “did not foresee” the number of Britons who became involved in extremist plots at home — such as the July 7, 2005 bombings in London which killed 52 people — following the conflict, she said.

“Our involvement in Iraq radicalised, for want of a better word, a whole generation of young people — not a whole generation, a few among a generation — who saw our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan as being an attack on Islam,” she said.

“During 2003-04, we realised that the focus was not foreigners. The rising and increasing threat was a threat from British citizens and that was a very different scenario to, as it were, stopping people coming in.”

Baroness Manningham-Buller was part of the government’s Joint Intelligence Committee before the war, which drew up the controversial dossier on Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction in September 2002. The dossier stated the weapons could be activated with 45 minutes of an order to do so.

Asked about the dossier, she said she had very limited involvement in its compilation but it was clear, with hindsight, that there was an “over-reliance” on certain intelligence.

MPs expressed the view that the former MI5 boss was getting her own back after she was drummed out of her job and blamed for failing to prevent the very terrorist attacks that she believes were stoked by the Iraq war. Patrick Mercer, former chairman of the Commons counter-terrorism committee, told the Daily Mail that the government ‘showed her the door’ because she was prepared to tell the truth. The baroness is the only member of the intelligence agencies to testify to the inquiry in public.

Watch the testimony here.

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