BLAIR’S invasion of Iraq ‘substantially’ increased the terrorist threat to the UK, the former MI5 Director General told the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War yesterday morning. Baroness Manningham-Buller was head of MI5 between 2002 and 2007.
She told the inquiry she had advised officials a year before the war that the threat posed by Iraq to the UK was ‘very limited’, and she believed that assessment had ‘turned out to be the right judgement’.
Describing the intelligence on Iraq’s weapons threat as ‘fragmentary’, she said: ‘If you are going to go to war, you need to have a pretty high threshold to decide on that.’ The UK’s participation in the March 2003 military action ‘undoubtedly increased’ the level of terrorist threat, she said.
‘Our involvement in Iraq, for want of a better word, radicalised a whole generation of young people, some of them British citizens who saw our involvement in Iraq, on top of our involvement in Afghanistan, as being an attack on Islam,’ she said.
Manningham-Buller was giving her evidence in public, although 35 witnesses have previously testified to the Iraq inquiry behind closed doors. Key to her evidence was the release of the declassified assessment which she wrote in March 2002, a year before the invasion of Iraq.
The ex-MI5 chief said she shared her concerns that the Iraq invasion would increase the UK’s exposure to terrorism with the then home secretary David Blunkett but not with prime minister Tony Blair.
Manningham-Buller was part of the government’s Joint Intelligence Committee before the war, which drew up the ‘dodgy dossier’ in September 2002. The dossier stated the weapons could be activated within 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. She added: ‘We were asked to put in some low-grade, small intelligence into it and we refused because we did not think that it was reliable.’
In the March 2002 letter, ‘declassified’ last week, Manningham-Buller wrote: ‘We have been giving some thought to the possible terrorist consequences should the US, possibly with UK support, seek to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq.’
She continued: ‘We judge that the current period of heightened tension between Iraq and the US is unlikely to prompt Saddam to order terrorist strikes against Coalition interests.’