Ken Livingstone: we were warned that Iraq "would make Britain a target"

In response to the Woolwich attack, the former Mayor of London says "we are still experiencing the dreadful truth of this warning".

In his statement on the Woolwich attack this morning, Boris Johnson pointedly noted that it was wrong "to link this murder to the actions of British foreign policy". Although the suspect filmed yesterday declared that it was the presence of British troops "in our lands" that motivated him, Johnson's words seemed unnecessary to me; no politician had suggested that such a link existed.

But in his response to the attack, Ken Livingstone has now done so. The former Mayor of London said:

In 2002, before the invasion of Iraq, the security services warned the Prime minister, Tony Blair, that this would make Britain a target for terrorist attacks. We are still experiencing the dreadful truth of this warning.

In response, aside from noting the crude simplicity of blaming the Iraq war for yesterday's attack, one might note that Britain hasn't had troops in the country since 2011

Update: For context, here is Ken's full statement. 

The horrific and barbaric murder of a British soldier in Woolwich yesterday should be unreservedly condemned. My thoughts and condolences go out to his family and friends following this brutal murder. I fully support the police in their efforts to discover whether the two individuals acted alone or whether an extremist group or cell is involved.

As Mayor of London, I served this city when it withstood the worst terrorist attack it has ever faced on the 7th July 2005. I am proud that Londoners of all faiths and none stood united, shoulder to shoulder against terrorism; our unity meant that there were no reprisal attacks against any one community in the immediate aftermath of those murderous bombings. Doing so again is the most effective way to defeat the terrorists' aims.

There will be those who will seek to scapegoat entire communities for this barbaric act. This is what terrorists want, and rely on. For people to feel fear, to turn on each other and to bring down the very essence of London, the most successful melting pot in the history of the world and the city of the free. Already, violent fascists have taken to the streets in Woolwich adding insult to the injury that community is feeling. Already there have been reprisal attacks against Mosques. We must not let this violent minority exploit this crime for their own hateful gains.

In 2002, before the invasion of Iraq, the security services warned the Prime minister, Tony Blair, that this would make Britain a target for terrorist attacks. We are still experiencing the dreadful truth of this warning.

But if this city has demonstrated one thing, it has been the very example of how to withstand the ultimate aim of terrorism, which is to divide us. Just as Norway refused to be beaten into submission by a national fascist terrorist whose attack left 77 people dead, so too, London will continue to be a beacon to the world for all those who want to live in harmony and realise their potential. These are the very things that terrorism mortally opposes. I therefore call upon all political parties, the media and the people of London, to embody the strength of this city that has always been here. Terrorism has never broken London or its unity. It never will. It will fail.

 

Former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

ANDREY BORODULIN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
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Letter from Donetsk: ice cream, bustling bars and missiles in eastern Ukraine

In Donetsk, which has been under the control of Russian backed rebels since April 2014, the propaganda has a hermetic, relentless feel to it.

Eighty-eight year-old Nadya Moroz stares through the taped-up window of her flat in Donetsk, blown in by persistent bombing. She wonders why she abandoned her peaceful village for a “better life” in Donetsk with her daughter, just months before war erupted in spring 2014.

Nadya is no stranger to upheaval. She was captured by the Nazis when she was 15 and sent to shovel coal in a mine in Alsace, in eastern France. When the region was liberated by the Americans, she narrowly missed a plane taking refugees to the US, and so returned empty-handed to Ukraine. She never thought that she would see fighting again.

Now she and her daughter Irina shuffle around their dilapidated flat in the front-line district of Tekstilshchik. Both physically impaired, they seldom venture out.

The highlight of the women’s day is the television series Posledniy Yanychar (“The Last Janissary”), about an Ottoman slave soldier and his dangerous love for a free Cossack girl.

They leave the dog-walking to Irina’s daughter, Galya, who comes back just in time. We turn on the TV a few minutes before two o’clock to watch a news report on Channel One, the Russian state broadcaster. It shows a montage of unnerving images: Nato tanks racing in formation across a plain, goose-stepping troops of Pravy Sektor (a right-wing Ukrainian militia) and several implicit warnings that a Western invasion is nigh. I wonder how my hosts can remain so impassive in the face of such blatant propaganda.

In Donetsk, which has been under the control of Russian-backed rebels since April 2014, the propaganda has a hermetic, relentless feel to it. If the TV doesn’t get you, the print media, radio and street hoardings will. Take a walk in the empty central district of the city and you have the creeping sense of being transported back to what it must have been like in the 1940s. Posters of Stalin, with his martial gaze and pomaded moustache, were taboo for decades even under the Soviets but now they grace the near-empty boulevards. Images of veterans of the 1941-45 war are ubiquitous, breast pockets ablaze with medals. Even the checkpoints bear the graffiti: “To Berlin!” It’s all inching closer to a theme-park re-enactment of the Soviet glory years, a weird meeting of propaganda and nostalgia.

So completely is the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in thrall to Russia that even its parliament has passed over its new flag for the tricolour of the Russian Federation, which flutters atop the building. “At least now that the municipal departments have become ministries, everyone has been promoted,” says Galya, wryly. “We’ve got to have something to be pleased about.”

The war in the Donbas – the eastern region of Ukraine that includes Donetsk and Luhansk – can be traced to the street demonstrations of 2013-14. The former president Viktor Yanukovych, a close ally of Vladimir Putin, had refused to sign an agreement that would have heralded closer integration with the EU. In late 2013, protests against his corrupt rule began in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (“Independence Square”) in Kyiv, as well as other cities. In early 2014 Yanukovych’s security forces fired on the crowds in the capital, causing dozens of fatalities, before he fled.

Putin acted swiftly, annexing Crimea and engineering a series of “anti-Maidans” across the east and south of Ukraine, bussing in “volunteers” and thugs to help shore up resistance to the new authority in Kyiv. The Russian-backed rebels consolidated their power base in Donetsk and Luhansk, where they established two “independent” republics, the DPR and its co-statelet, the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR). Kyiv moved to recover the lost territories, sparking a full-scale war that raged in late 2014 and early 2015.

Despite the so-called “peace” that arrived in autumn 2015 and the beguiling feeling that a certain normality has returned – the prams, the ice creams in the park, the bustling bars – missiles still fly and small-arms fire frequently breaks out. You can’t forget the conflict for long.

One reminder is the large number of dogs roaming the streets, set free when their owners left. Even those with homes have suffered. A Yorkshire terrier in the flat next door to mine started collecting food from its bowl when the war began and storing it in hiding places around the flat. Now, whenever the shelling starts, he goes to his caches and binge-eats in a sort of atavistic canine survival ritual.

Pet shops are another indicator of the state of a society. Master Zoo in the city centre has an overabundance of tropical fish tanks (too clunky to evacuate) and no dogs. In their absence, the kennels have been filled with life-size plastic hounds under a sign strictly forbidding photography, for reasons unknown. I had to share my rented room with a pet chinchilla called Shunya. These furry Andean rodents, fragile to transport but conveniently low-maintenance, had become increasingly fashionable before the war. The city must still be full of them.

The bombing generally began “after the weekends, before holidays, Ukraine’s national days and before major agreements”, Galya had said. A new round of peace talks was about to start, and I should have my emergency bag at the ready. I shuddered back up to the ninth floor of my pitch-dark Tekstilshchik tower block. Shunya was sitting quiet and unruffled in his cage, never betraying any signs of stress. Free from Russian television, we girded ourselves for the night ahead.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war