The National Army Museum is at the centre of a political row after it acquired a painting that pins the blame for the 7 July bombings on the Iraq war.
The decision by the museum - which is funded by the Ministry of Defence and is the foremost keeper of the Army’s history - will be regarded as a snub to the Government, and former Prime Minister Tony Blair in particular.
The painting, by leading British pop artist Gerald Laing, will be unveiled tonight, five days before the second anniversary of the suicide attacks that killed 52 people.
The work shows US president George Bush alongside a burning Baghdad at the height of “shock and awe”. But as the viewer walks past the painting, President Bush morphs into Mr Blair and the Iraqi capital becomes the shattered No 30 bus that was blown up in Tavistock Square, killing 13 people.
Many anti-war campaigners have blamed the 7/7 attacks on Mr Blair’s decision to invade Iraq, claims the former prime minister has always denied.
The painting is called Truth or Consequences - a reference to the claim Mr Blair lied about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.
Mr Laing, a former Army officer, said: “Everybody believes there is a connection between the invasion of Iraq and the 7 July bombings, only Mr Blair doesn’t seem to think so.
“I’m very impressed that the National Army Musuem is prepared to show this painting. We have an amazing situation now where even the Chief of the General Staff Sir Richard Dannatt is prepared to criticise the war, because he is interested in his men and how they are used.
“There is a tremendous amount of unease about the Middle East and the museum is reflecting that.” A source close to the artist added: “The work is a scathing critique of Tony Blair’s foreign policy. It is a controversial painting, but the museum believes it is the job of art to challenge people.”
However, John Taylor, whose 24-year-old daughter Carrie was one of the seven people murdered in the Aldgate Tube blast, condemned the Chelsea museum’s decision to display the work.
Mr Taylor, a security officer at Tate Britain, said: “It’s not the job of the National Army Museum to mix art and politics in this way.
“It’s claptrap to blame US foreign policy for the 7 July bombings. I agree that Iraq has fanned the flames, but it started long before that. Our soldiers are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan to weed out the sort of people that killed my daughter.”
Labour MP Eric Joyce, himself a former soldier, added: “The artist is of course free to paint what he wants, but I’ve never seen the mission of the National Army Museum as that of making controversial statements about foreign policy.
“Are they being controversial for the sake of it, to get people through the front door?”
Dr Peter Boyden, director of collections at the museum, said: “It’s one of a number of paintings dealing with contemporary military activity. The NAM does not have a view on any link between Iraq and 7 July.
“We are here to present different views of the military’s activity to the public and to allow visitors to make up their own minds.”