Former MI5 head wants talks with al-Qaida

Eliza Manningham-Buller says invasion of Iraq was a "distraction," states 9/11 terrorist attacks were a “monstrous crime" but not an act of war.

Iraqi soldiers 311 R (photo credit: REUTERS/Ali al-Mashhadani)
Iraqi soldiers 311 R
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ali al-Mashhadani)
LONDON – A former head of Britain’s MI5 domestic intelligence service has launched a blistering attack on the invasion of Iraq, saying it posed no threat to the UK when then prime minister Tony Blair took the UK to war in 2003.
Eliza Manningham-Buller, the former head of MI5, was speaking as part of the BBC Reith Lectures, a series of annual radio lectures on significant contemporary issues.
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According to the recording of the program to be broadcast on BBC radio on Wednesday, Manningham-Buller held out the prospect for talks with al- Qaida and said the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US were a “crime, not an act of war,” so she “never felt it helpful to refer to ‘a war on terror.’” September 11 was a “monstrous crime” but it needed a considered response, an appreciation of the causes and roots of terrorism, she said during the program’s questions and answer session. Manningham- Buller said she hoped there were those, implying in Western governments, who were considering having “talks with al-Qaida.”
“Some way must be found of approaching them,” she suggested, though she said she did not know how that could be done at the present time.
The former MI5 head made it clear that she believed the UK and US governments had not sufficiently understood the resentment that had been building up among Arab people, which was only compounded by the war against Iraq.
Young Arabs had no opportunity to choose their own rulers, she said. “For them an external enemy was a unifying way to address some of their frustrations.
“They were also united by the plight of Palestinians,” she said.
“It was wrong to say all terrorists belonged to al-Qaida,” she added.
M a n n i n g h a m - B u l l e r described the invasion of Iraq as a “distraction” in the pursuit of al-Qaida.
“Iraq did not present a threat to the UK. The service advised that it was likely to increase the domestic threat and that it was a distraction from the pursuit of al-Qaida. I understood the need to focus on Afghanistan. Iraq was a distraction,” she said.
“Saddam Hussein was a ruthless dictator but neither he nor his regime had anything to do with 9/11,” she said.
The invasion, she contended, “provided an arena for jihad,” which encourage UK citizens to resort to terrorism.
M a n n i n g h a m - B u l l e r described former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi as “a horror” but appeared torn about military interventions such as the current NATO effort in Libya.
“It’s very difficult – do you just stand by and watch people being murdered?” she asked.
Asked about Britain's friendlier approach to Gaddafi in the recent past, Manningham- Buller said: “There was a point to cosying up to him, to get him to forfeit his stockpiles of WMD [weapons of mass destruction]. It was the right thing to do. But yes, you do have to be aware of who you’re dealing with.”