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Prime Minister rejects findings of US report which claims Iraq war has increased terrorism; says terrorism existed before the war.

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Monday 25 September 2006

Prime Minister rejects findings of US report which claims Iraq war has increased terrorism; says terrorism existed before the war


MARK COLVIN: The Prime Minister has responded to a major report which says the war in Iraq has increased terrorism, by saying that terrorism existed long before the US and its allies overthrew Saddam Hussein. 


The US National Intelligence Estimate, or NIE, is a joint document summing up the views of the CIA, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Security Agency, and 12 other American intelligence agencies. 


This year's NIE concludes that the war in Iraq has boosted Islamic radicalism. 


The report directly contradicts assertions by US President George W. Bush that the war in Iraq has made the world safer. 


National Security Correspondent Leigh Sales reports. 


LEIGH SALES: The National Intelligence Estimate gives a depressing analysis of the spread of terrorism around the world. 


The classified document was leaked to The New York Times, and it says the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped create a new generation of Islamic radicalism. 


Its overall assessment is that the global terrorist threat has grown since the attacks of September 11, 2001. 


Peter Bergen is an internationally respected expert on terrorism based at the New America Foundation and he explains the document's significance. 


PETER BERGEN: What's really interesting here is that, you know, 16 separate US intelligence agencies have arrived at a consensus document. These National Intelligence Estimates are processes that can take can years, and this is not a conclusion that is arrived at lightly. 


And the people who put together these kinds of assessments can hardly be described as sort of, flaming lefties, or you know, consistent critics of the Bush administration. I mean this is... these are career intelligence officers who have put together this assessment. And I think it's pretty devastating. 


LEIGH SALES: As recently as the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks a few weeks ago, US President George W. Bush was saying the world was now safer because of his administration's actions. 


GEORGE BUSH: Since that day America and her allies have taken the offensive in a war unlike any we have fought before. Today we are safer. 


LEIGH SALES: The National Intelligence Estimate directly contradicts that assertion. 


The Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, says the report offers simply one opinion. 


JOHN HOWARD: Well my response is that there are many theories about the origins of terrorism and the factors that bear on terrorism. 


One fact is absolutely certain, and that is that Australia and the United States and many other countries were terrorist targets long before the military operation in Iraq. 


I remind you that the 88 Australians who were killed in Bali were murdered before the invasion of Iraq. And I remind you that the first attack on the World Trade Centre took place in 1993 - 10 years before the military operation in Iraq. 


LEIGH SALES: Peter Bergen agrees terrorism has long existed, but says it's indisputable that Iraq has made it worse. 


PETER BERGEN: You know, terrorism certainly existed before the Iraq war, but you know... so, on the other hand, the Iraq war has certainly sort of re-energised al-Qaeda and its affiliates. 


Michael Scheuer, who is head of the bin Laden unit at CIA would say that, you know, if bin Laden believed in Christmas, the Iraq war would have been his Christmas gift. 


LEIGH SALES: Figures compiled by the US Government's own agencies back the claim that terrorism is on the increase. 


In 2003, the State Department put the number of terrorist attacks worldwide at 208. In 2004, that figure roughly tripled to 650. 


After controversy about how the numbers were pulled together, in 2005, the newly created National Centre for Counter Terrorism took over responsibility for gathering the data. 


It expanded the criteria for what constituted a terrorist attack and said the adjusted 2004 figure was 3,192 attacks. Then, in 2005, using the same criteria, the figure almost quadrupled to 11,111. 


In addition, a report this year by the Council on Global Terrorism - an independent body made up of respected experts - concluded "there is every sign that radicalisation in the Muslim world is spreading, not shrinking". 


Shadow foreign minister, Kevin Rudd, has accused the Prime Minister of not telling the truth about Iraq's relationship to terrorism. 


KEVIN RUDD: Let's start with some honesty Mr Howard, to admit that the Iraq war has increased the world terrorist threat, not decreased it, because when you went to war in Iraq you said that the objective was to decrease the terrorist threat. 


LEIGH SALES: The National Intelligence Estimate has been leaked at a sensitive time, as the Bush administration gears up for mid-term congressional elections. 


A key issue is which party, the Republicans or Democrats, can make America safer. 


The relationship between the Bush White House and US intelligence agencies has been tense for a few years, partly because of the faulty information about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, partly because of differing views about the prospects for long-term stability in Iraq, and partly because of the intelligence experts' failure to connect the dots before the September 11 attacks. 


MARK COLVIN: National Security Correspondent Leigh Sales.