Inquiry into UK role in Iraq war delayed... again

Inquiry into UK role in Iraq war delayed... again
The Chilcot Inquiry was established six years ago to investigate Britain's role in the Iraq war. After a series of delays, the publication of the report has been postponed, once again, until after the UK parliamentary elections in May.
5 min read
21 January, 2015
The UK's troops may have Iraq but their legacy remains unclear [AFP]

The delay to the publication of the inquiry into the UK's involvement in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and its aftermath has prompted condemnation.

The decision to take the country to war in Iraq was hugely divisive, prompting millions to take to the streets in protest.

The Chilcot inquiry was set up in 2009 to address controversies over the pre-invasion justifications given for the toppling of Saddam Hussein, as well as the manner in which the war and occupation were executed.

     There is a real danger the public will assume the report is being 'sexed down'

The panel of the inquiry has heard evidence from a variety of witnesses including former prime minister Tony Blair, senior diplomats, military chiefs and civil servants.

Publication of the report was previously promised "within months" of the end of the inquiry in 2011.

Unclear reasons

The chairman of the panel, Sir John Chilcot, said Wednesday's delay was because some of those featured in the findings have been given a chance to respond.

"Until we have received and evaluated responses from all those who have been given the opportunity to respond, I cannot give an accurate estimate for how long it will then take to complete our work," wrote Chilcot in a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron. 

"But it is clear that it will take some further months."

There have been a number of reasons for previous delays including negotiations over whether or not confidential messages between then Blair and the then-US president, George W Bush, would be disclosed.  

In June 2014 Chilcot said it would be satisfactory for the "gist" of the Blair-Bush communications to made public.

Blair himself has repeatedly denied allegations he is stalling the release of the report claiming he wants it to be published as soon as possible. 

The former PM's allies have argued that the the civil service is to blame for the delays due to fears that the revelations could harm the very close ties between UK and US intelligence services.

In 2010 Blair spent a full day of questioning in front of the panel during which he was heckled by spectators after saying he felt "responsibility but not regret". 

'Sexed down'?

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg wrote a response to Chilcot in which he said the public would find the decision to delay "incomprehensible".

In the letter he claimed, "If the findings are not published with a sense of immediacy, there is a real danger the public will assume the report is being 'sexed down' by individuals rebutting criticisms put to them by the inquiry, whether that is the case or not."

     This is not simply some formality. This is for the whole country to understand why we made a terrible mistake in Iraq

The term 'sexed down' referrences the allegations that Tony Blair and his inner coterie in government and the intelligence services 'sexed up' the dossier presented to parliament regarding Iraq's supposed Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) programme.

The so-called 'dodgy dosier' was pivotal in the UK justification for joining the US led coalition in the Iraq War, which according to the the British based organisation Iraq Body Counts claimed the lives of 134,400 to 151,652 Iraqi civilians.

The statistics are contestable as the US director of the invasion General Tommy Franks infamously stated, "We don't do body counts," although it is known a total of 179 UK service personnel and nearly 4,500 US soldiers were killed in the conflict.

The legacy of the Iraq invasion still hangs heavily over the British establishment.

During his testimony to the Chilcot Inquiry Tony Blair said if Iraq were to emerge as a stable country, "We can look back, and in particular our armed forces can look back, with an immense sense of pride and achievement at what they did."

Iraq is now engulfed in a bloody sectarian quagmire with the radically militant Islamic State group (IS, formerly ISIS) holding vast swathes of territory.

While Blair has repeatedly stood by his decision to go to war he has conceded there was "inadequate" detail and quality to the post war planning.

Politicians' calculations

The potential release of the report will be viewed differently from the competing political parties as they eye up the elections to be held in five months time.

The ruling Conservative party, including Cameron, voted in favour of the campaign but can distance themselves from the fallout claiming they were misled by faulty intelligence.

The opposition Labour stands to lose the most. Although the party leader Ed Milliband was not a Member of Parliament (MP) at the time of the vote, and says he was against the war, the fact that it was Tony Blair who led the nation to war means the Chilcot revelations are likely to damage his party the most.

The Liberal Democrats, currently the junior partner in a governing coalition, and smaller fringe parties such as the Greens could look to gain from painful admissions in the report as they voted against the war.

Although it now looks as if the report is highly unlikely to be put to the public before the elections questioning among the political establishment about how it is being handled continues.

MPs are set to debate in parliament next week the delays in publication after a motion was submitted calling for the inquiry to publish its findings by 12 February.

Senior Conservative backbencher David Davis, who is a principal driver behind next week's discussion, told the Guardian newspaper, "We need to know why. This is not simply some formality. This is for the whole country to understand why we made a terrible mistake in Iraq."

The Chilcot Inquiry's revelations over the UK involvement in the Iraq war will be of interest to many people beyond the British Isles too.

Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood, who has the final say over the declassification of documents relating to the war, said last year that the final report would tell the "whole story" about the UK's involvement.