Iraq panel delay ‘incomprehensible’

Published: Wednesday 21st January 2015 by The News Editor

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The long-awaited report of the Chilcot inquiry into Britain’s role in the Iraq war will not be published until after the general election in May because of continuing delays in the process.

Six years after the inquiry was created, panel chairman Sir John Chilcot will today set out his reasons why its findings still cannot be made public in an exchange of letters with Prime Minister David Cameron.

Government sources indicated Mr Cameron will tell Sir John he would have liked the report to have been published already and certainly released before the election.

But the Prime Minister, who spoke in the Commons earlier this month of his “immense frustration” at the delays, will also make clear that as it is an independent inquiry it is for Sir John to decide when he is ready to publish.

In a letter last night to the inquiry chairman, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the public would find the latest delay “incomprehensible” and called on Sir John to set out “a much clearer and more defined timetable” with strict deadlines and a firm date for publication.

He claimed that the public would assume that the report is being “sexed down” by key individuals expected to face criticism.

“Neither administrative processes nor a constant back and forth between the inquiry and witnesses criticised should frustrate an independent report so important to the country’s future from being published as soon as possible,” he wrote.

“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.

“The inquiry into Iraq will both resolve the issues of the past and set the tone for future British foreign policy. We cannot wait any longer for these lessons to be learned.”

The inquiry was established by then prime minister Gordon Brown in 2009 and took public evidence from its last witness in 2011.

It became increasingly clear that the report was unlikely to be made public before the election after ministers said in October that it would have to be released before the end of February if it was not to impinge upon the electoral process.

Publication has been held up by wrangling over the release of confidential messages between Tony Blair and former US president George Bush and the so-called “Maxwellisation” process by which people who are criticised in the report are given the chance to respond.

Sir John finally accepted an agreement whereby he would publish the “gist” of the communications between Mr Blair and Mr Bush after Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood blocked the publication of the full exchanges.

However, the protracted dispute – and the need to declassify thousands of official papers – further delayed the start of the Maxwellisation process, putting back the eventual publication date.

The disclosure that it will not happen before polling day came as MPs prepared to stage a Commons debate next week on the hold-ups.

Senior Tory backbencher David Davis, who was the driving force behind the staging of the debate, said it was “incomprehensible” that it would have to wait until the next parliament.

“Frankly this is not good enough. It is more than five years since it started,” he told The Guardian.

“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. Simply putting it off is not good enough.

“Why has this taken so long? What is going on that is preventing this? The report was created in the first place by a Labour government in order to get an understanding of what went wrong. I can think of no reason why this should be deferred.”

Critics have pointed the finger at Mr Blair, who is widely expected to be criticised in the report for seeking to slow down the process – a claim the former prime minister has strongly rejected.

Published: Wednesday 21st January 2015 by The News Editor

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