UK Chilcot report on Iraq war to be published in the summer 2016
Chilcot report on Iraq war to be published next June or July
Sir John Chilcot writes to PM to tell him that his report will be published next summer – seven years after inquiry was set up by Gordon Brown.
British troops moving into the technical college of Basra in 2003. Photograph: Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images
Sir John Chilcot has announced that he is to publish his report into the Iraq war next June or July following intense pressure from David Cameron to speed up his timetable.
In a letter to the prime minister, the former Northern Ireland office permanent secretary said he would finally complete his work seven years after the inquiry was set up by Gordon Brown.
The letter states that the inquiry expects to be able to complete the text of its report in the week of 18 April 2016.
The prime minister, who received Chilcot’s letter as he travelled to the Northern Future Forum in the Icelandic capital on Wednesday, is expected to set out his response later on Thursday.
The publication has been held up by two factors. Chilcot was involved in a lengthy wrangle with two successive cabinet secretaries – Gus O’Donnell and Sir Jeremy Heywood – over the publication of correspondence between Blair and George W Bush.
These focused on whether Blair provided undertakings to Bush in the run-up to the invasion in 2003 – around the time of his visit to Bush in Crawford, Texas in April 2002 – that Britain would join US forces.
Blair has always said that he gave no definitive commitment to the US and actually succeeded in putting pressure on the White House to seek UN authority in the autumn and winter of 2002.
Heywood, who feared that publication of the correspondence might harm communications with future presidents, eventually agreed to some limited publication. This then paved the way for the Maxwellisation process in which the Chilcot team sent sections of the report to witnesses who were to be criticised.
This is a lengthy process because witnesses have the right to respond. The news that Chilcot will finally publish his work comes shortly after Tony Blair issued a partial apology for elements of the Iraq war.
Blair’s remarks gave an insight into Chilcot’s likely findings because the former prime minister, in common with other witnesses, has been sent the sections of the report that criticise his conduct.
The former prime minister apologised for the use of misleading intelligence which prompted him to justify the invasion on the grounds that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. He also said that inadequate preparations were made for the aftermath of the war.
Blair told Fareed Zakaria on CNN: “I apologise for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong. I also apologise for some of the mistakes in planning and, certainly, our mistake in our understanding of what would happen once you removed the regime.”
But Blair made clear that he still felt he made the right decision in backing the US invasion of Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein. He said: “I find it hard to apologise for removing Saddam.”
Chilcot report likely to cast net of criticism far and wide
Tony Blair’s half-hearted apology for the way he dragged Britain into war in Iraq is scarcely surprising, but many others will also be in the firing line
It is scarcely surprising that Tony Blair gave a half-hearted apology for the way he dragged Britain into a disastrous invasion of Iraq. What is more surprising is that he had not done it much sooner – and that he did it to an American broadcaster.
Blair knows full well that he will be heavily criticised by the Chilcot inquiry for the way he joined George Bush’s invasion without properly informing his cabinet, let alone parliament and the public, and for rejecting advice from his government’s law officers.
There are some who held very high office at the time who have said Blair could be charged under international law, in particular over the obligations placed on occupying powers under the Geneva conventions to protect civilians, and “ensure public order and safety”.
Blair apologised “for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong”. He knows full well MI6 is an easy target.
He knows many others will be heavily criticised when the Chilcot report is published, almost certainly next year. Near the top of the list, along with Blair himself, are likely to be the former head of MI6 Sir Richard Dearlove, and the head of the joint intelligence committee, Sir John Scarlett. But Chilcot is expected to cast his net far and wide.
Judging from the evidence he heard, many others will be in the firing line. They include: Jack Straw, the then foreign secretary who was responsible for MI6 and rejected the clear advice from his top law officers that the invasion was illegal; Geoff Hoon, the defence secretary who went along with Downing Street’s instruction that military commanders must not be seen to prepare for war to avoid upsetting the UN; military commanders for not objecting as much as they should have done and Clare Short, the international development secretary, for not helping with the reconstruction because she was opposed to the invasion, believing it to be unlawful. (Short says the problem was Blair instructed the military, bypassing her department, to deal with Iraq’s reconstruction.)
Chilcot, whose inquiry was set up by prime minister Gordon Brown in 2009, has been lambasted for the delay in publishing his report. He has been criticised for agreeing that Whitehall – specifically its chief gatekeeper, the cabinet secretary – would have the final say over what documents given to his inquiry can and cannot be published.
Fierce and protracted arguments, notably over what could be revealed about what Blair promised Bush, were responsible for the initial delays. Chilcot promises that more will be published about the contents of private discussions between a British prime minister and an American president than ever before.
Further delay was the result of the so-called “Maxwellisation” process whereby those Chilcot intended to criticise would have the opportunity to respond to drafts of the relevant passages.
Chilcot has made it clear that Whitehall has conducted a guerrilla campaign, specifically by giving to those the inquiry wanted to criticise documents that would help them in their defence. Those documents had not been given to the
Chilcot panel. So Chilcot deserves some sympathy.
Blair may hope those delays, and his admission that some “mistakes” were made, will help to take the sting out of a report that should, given all the evidence it heard, be damning.