- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 28, 2005

LONDON — British Prime Minister Tony Blair faced criticism yesterday after the leak of a letter showing that one of his top advisers had warned that his Middle East policy was boosting recruitment by homegrown Islamist cells.

The Conservative opposition derided as “inept” Mr. Blair’s refusal to admit that British involvement in Iraq had bolstered Islamic militancy at home.

The Observer published a May 18, 2004, letter from Michael Jay, an adviser to Mr. Blair’s chief of staff, warning that British foreign policy in the Middle East was “a key driver” for such recruitment.

“British foreign policy and the perception of its negative effect on Muslims globally plays a significant role in creating a feeling of anger and impotence among especially the younger generation of British Muslims,” the memo said. “This seems to be a key driver behind recruitment by extremist organizations.”

The Observer did not claim that Mr. Blair read the document, but said it was sent directly to his Cabinet secretary, who briefs the prime minister almost daily. Mr. Blair’s office refused to comment on the document.

Liam Fox, the Conservative spokesman on foreign affairs, said minority groups should not be able to “veto” British policy, but he criticized ministers for insisting that there was no connection between the Iraq war and recruitment to extremist groups.

“It’s simply not sensible for the government to say there’s no link,” he said. “The government’s handling of this has been rather inept politically, from start to finish.”

Opinion polls have shown a boost in Mr. Blair’s approval rating in light of his resolute handling of the two sets of suicide bomb attacks on the London transit system last month, the first of which killed 52 persons.

The Blair government subsequently announced that it will push legislation that would ban some extremist groups — including Hizb ut-Tahrir, which the leaked document says is benefiting from Muslim anger over the government’s Middle East actions.

However, Mr. Blair has never accepted the claims of his critics that he should have stayed out of Iraq for fear of provoking an Islamist backlash.

The Observer also obtained a strategy document titled “Building Bridges with Mainstream Islam,” which said Britain is now seen by extremists as a target on the same level with the United States.

“This was previously focused on the United States,” the document said. “But the war on Iraq has meant [Britain] is now seen in similar terms — both are now seen by many Muslims as ‘crusader states.’”

It argued that even the rebuilding of Iraq has not moderated resentment within the British Muslim community and that the government’s work on “engaging with Islam” has been “knocked back.”

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