Britain’s blood price


In a BBC 2 programme broadcast on 8 September 2002, Michael Cockerell asked the Prime Minister whether one of the elements of the UK-US special relationship was whether “Britain is prepared to send troops to commit themselves, to pay the blood price”. Blair replied:


 “Yes. What is important though is that at moments of crisis they (the USA) don't need to know simply that you are giving general expressions of support and sympathy.  That is easy, frankly. They need to know, ‘Are you prepared to commit, are you prepared to be there when the shooting starts?’”


The blood price he was referring to there was military casualties on the battlefield, and that price has been paid to the extent of 59 deaths and several hundred wounded to date in Iraq.


But there is another blood price that may have to be paid, in civilian casualties in Britain itself.  The bombs in Madrid have brought that question to the fore.


Understandably, therefore, British Ministers have been desperately trying to counter the reasonable conclusion that Spain was targeted on 11 March 2004 because of its support for the invasion of Iraq and its subsequent contribution of 1,300 troops to the occupation forces there.  Spain was, after all, on a list of countries named by bin Laden last autumn as targets because of Iraq.  Uncomfortably for British Ministers, Britain is at the head of that list. 


There seems little doubt that the Aznar Government lost the general election, because a portion of the electorate, not only believed that Spain was targeted because of Iraq, but also suspected that, in order to save its own skin, the Aznar Government sought to pin the blame on ETA, lest it be held indirectly responsible by the electorate because of its support for the invasion of Iraq.  The Government’s attempt to pin the blame on ETA went as far as promoting a Security Council resolution, passed unanimously within hours of the bombings, condemning “in the strongest terms the bomb attacks in Madrid, Spain, perpetrated by the terrorist group ETA on 11 March 2004”.


Nevertheless, British Ministers have been asserting robotically since 11 March 2004 that the targeting of Spain had nothing to do with Iraq; that al-Qaeda has been engaged in terrorism for years, long before the invasion of Iraq, and even before 9/11, and that the whole world was under threat before the invasion of Iraq, and is still under threat now.  Nothing has changed as a result of the invasion of Iraq, we are supposed to believe.


(In which case, our intelligence services, on whom we rely to keep us safe from terrorism, got it wrong again.   The intelligence services told the Prime Minister before the invasion that, in their opinion, the threat from al-Qaeda “would be heightened by military action against Iraq” –(see Intelligence & Security Committee report, paragraph 126), but he chose not to reveal that to Parliament, lest it refuse to vote for the invasion.   Have the intelligence services been proved wrong?)


It seems to have escaped the writer of the Ministers’ script that, whatever about al-Qaeda’s choice of targets before the invasion of Iraq, it may have decided that after the invasion priority should be given to attacking those countries who supported the invasion.  That would be the politically astute course of action, since to be seen to be punishing states who supported the invasion of a Muslim state for bogus reasons would raise its standing in the Muslim world greatly.  That’s what Bin Laden said was going to happen last autumn, and since then British interests were attacked in Istanbul and now the Spanish homeland has been attacked.


(Jack Straw tried to convince Today listeners on 15 March 2004 that the attack on the British consulate and a British bank in Istanbul last November was just another random strike, this time against Turkey, even though the targets were British and even though the attacks took place on a day when Bush and Blair were having a council of war in Downing Street.  If the Foreign Secretary genuinely believes that, he needs his head examined.)


The official line from Ministers is that Spain was merely been the latest, randomly chosen, country to be targeted by Islamic groups.  It had nothing to do with Spain’s stance on Iraq.  Along with this “everybody’s a target” theme, Ministers have been pushing the corollary that “nobody can opt out”.  Straw told Today:


“Nobody, nobody should believe that somehow we can opt out of the war against Islamic terrorism.  The idea that somehow there is some exemption certificate for this war against terrorism is utter nonsense.”


In fact, there’s a very simple way of getting an exemption certificate: it is to cease being an unequivocal supporter of US foreign policy towards the Muslim world.


After 9/11, the Prime Minister opted in by standing shoulder to shoulder with the US.  In so far as Britain is under threat from al-Qaida, it is a threat that the Prime Minister’s chose to impose on Britain after 9/11.  And since then he has increased the threat by choosing to follow the US to war in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Whether a blood price will have to be paid in British homeland for this special relationship remains to be seen.


It is not inevitable that Britain will be targeted, let alone successfully targeted.  The threat is a product of a policy choice.  A different policy choice away from being an uncritical follower of the US in foreign policy, coupled with specific action, for example, the withdrawal of our troops from Iraq, would eliminate the threat at a stroke, and permanently.


Of course, that’s not going to happen.  But let us be clear that the Prime Minister has made a policy choice that has put Britain in the firing line and put British lives in danger.  And no amount of concrete bollards, or security checks, or anti-terrorism laws, will eliminate that danger.



Labour & Trade Union Review

April 2004