An audit of the war on terror makes depressing reading

13 October 2003

The latest suicide bomb in Baghdad illustrates the way in which the Iraq war has distorted the priorities of the war against terrorism. This brand of terrorism did not exist before the invasion of Iraq. For all the US-British attempts to ascribe such attacks to Baathist remnants and foreign infiltrators, the more straightforward explanation seems likely - that they are carried out by Iraqis motivated by a combination of nationalism, religion and revenge. The suicide tactic has been copied from the Palestinians, for whom fellow feeling has been strengthened, not weakened, by the invasion of Iraq.

It is not as if this new spectre of terrorism has been summoned into being as the price of reducing the risk of terrorism elsewhere. The deposing of Saddam Hussein has, sadly, had no effect on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, or the absence of one. The North Koreans and, possibly, elements of the Iranian leadership have drawn the lesson from the conflict in Iraq that they must acquire a workable nuclear device as quickly as possible.

Meanwhile, the threats of international terrorism that predated the diversion of US foreign policy into the dusty back streets of Baghdad remain little changed. In an interview with this newspaper, the deputy head of the International Atomic Energy Authority, which is at the forefront of the struggle against the proliferation of nuclear weapons technology, warns in graphic terms of the threats faced by big Western cities.

And the global network of which al-Qa'ida is a part remains active and dangerous. Those who planted the Bali bomb a year ago may have defiantly accepted their martyrdom. The organisation behind them, Jemaah Islamiyah, may have lost a few leaders in recent arrests, but we cannot yet be confident that Western intelligence agencies know how strong it is across Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and beyond.

With the recent passing of the second anniversary of the attack on the twin towers, the audit of the war against terrorism that has been waged so inconsistently by President Bush is a mixture of the effective and the counter-productive. It is an indictment of US foreign policy that the citizens of America and of the world are not significantly safer than they were two years ago.