Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Inquiry begins...

Iraq war inquiry opens

Independent inquiry will examine events from September 11 attacks to withdrawal of most British troops from Iraq this year

Haroon Siddique

Thursday 30 July 2009 08.19 BST

An independent inquiry into the Iraq war that will examine the run-up to the conflict and the country's subsequent reconstruction will begin today.

The inquiry, which will be conducted by privy counsellors and chaired by the former civil servant Sir John Chilcot, has been described by the prime minister, Gordon Brown, as a means to "learn the lessons of the complex and often controversial events" from the September 11 terror attacks to the withdrawal of most British troops from Iraq earlier this year.

Key questions are likely to include whether Tony Blair had already made it clear privately to George Bush that he would commit UK troops to the invasion of Iraq before the diplomatic wrangling at the UN, and how much information the then-prime minister and his close advisers shared with the rest of the government and MPs.

The government has resisted calls for a public inquiry for years on the basis that it could endanger British forces still serving in Iraq, but with combat operations over and only 150 troops remaining in the country - training local forces - Brown announced last month that it was time for the "unprecedented" inquiry.

Brown has promised full government co-operation, although he has already been forced into significant U-turns over the way in which it will be conducted. There was an outcry from families of military personnel who had died and from opposition parties when, announcing the formation of the inquiry, Brown stated it would be held in private. Chilcot later said that most hearings would be in public unless there were "compelling reasons", such as national security, for witnesses to be heard in private. Brown's initial contention that there would be no apportioning of blame was also later contradicted, this time by David Miliband, although the foreign secretary emphasised that criminal or civil liability would not be established.

The inquiry at the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre in central London will hear evidence from ministers, military officers and officials. It is due to report in a year's time but officials hope it could wrap up in as little as three months. The Tories have complained that it is politically expedient for the government to delay the conclusions until after a general election.

Brown said the final report would "be able to disclose all but the most sensitive information, that is, all information except that which is essential to our national security".

It follows two inquiries - chaired by Lords Hutton and Butler respectively - which drew criticism for their lack of independence.

British forces officially ended combat operations in Iraq in April after a campaign in which 179 servicemen and women died. The war, which was supported by Brown and which he financed as chancellor, cost the British taxpayer approximately £6.5bn.

Finally - the Iraq war inquiry begins

Thursday, 30, Jul 2009 07:55

By staff

Full details of the Iraq war inquiry are due to be set out later, as the probe into the government's conduct before, during and after the 2003 ousting of Saddam Hussein finally gets underway.

Chairman Sir John Chilcot will outline the terms of reference on the first day of the inquiry's work in central London.

Central to his announcements will be the extent to which the inquiry will be held in public. He has already insisted that it was "essential to hold as much of the proceedings of the inquiry as possible in public".

Gordon Brown had initially argued the inquiry would be held in private. Following huge pressure from opposition parties he backed down, with Downing Street insisting he had no "ideological" objection to it being held in public.

The inquiry is expected to be the definitive investigation into the British government's decision-making, conduct and attitudes to the Iraq war.

The formation of the 'dodgy dossier' which justified the war will be under scrutiny, as will the invasion of Iraq itself in spring 2003 and the six-year stay in the country's south which followed.

It is not yet clear whether Sir John's final report will be published in time for the next general election.$1315163.htm


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