|Date||24 November 2009– 2 February 2011|
|Also known as||Chilcot Inquiry|
|Participants||Sir John Chilcot, Sir Lawrence Freedman, Sir Martin Gilbert (now deceased), Sir Roderic Lyne, Baroness Prashar|
The Iraq Inquiry, also referred to as the Chilcot Inquiry after its chairman, Sir John Chilcot, is a British public inquiry into the nation's role in the Iraq War. The inquiry was announced on 15 June 2009 by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, with an initial announcement that proceedings would take place in private, a decision which was subsequently reversed after receiving criticism in the media and the House of Commons.
The Inquiry was pursued by a committee of Privy Counsellors with broad terms of reference to consider Britain's involvement in Iraq between mid-2001 and July 2009. It covered the run-up to the conflict, the subsequent military action and its aftermath with the purpose to establish the way decisions were made, to determine what happened and to identify lessons to ensure that in a similar situation in future, the British government is equipped to respond in the most effective manner in the best interests of the country. The open sessions of the inquiry commenced on 24 November 2009 and concluded on 2 February 2011.
In 2012, the government vetoed the release of the documents to the Inquiry detailing minutes of Cabinet meetings in the days leading up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Concurrently, the British Foreign Office successfully appealed against a judge's ruling and blocked the disclosure of extracts of a conversation between George W. Bush and Tony Blair moments before the invasion. The government stated that revealing a phone call conversation between Bush and Blair moments before the invasion would later present a "significant danger" to British-American relations. The million-word report of the Inquiry was due to be released to the public by 2014, but difficult negotiations were continuing with the United States over the publication of documents. The Lord-in-Waiting Lord Wallace of Saltaire said on behalf of the government that it would be "inappropriate" to publish the report in the months leading up to the next general election in May 2015.
In August it transpired that the Report would in any event be further delayed, possibly into 2016. This was said to be due to the legal requirement of "Maxwellisation", allowing any person who is to be criticised a fair opportunity to comment on a draft prior to finalisation and publication.
It was initially announced by Prime Minister Gordon Brown that the Iraq Inquiry would be held in camera, excluding the public and press. However, the decision was later deferred to Sir John Chilcot, the inquiry chairman, who said that it was "essential to hold as much of the proceedings of the inquiry as possible in public". In July 2009, when the inquiry commenced, it was announced that the committee would be able to request any British document and call any British citizen to give evidence. In the week before the inquiry began hearing witnesses, a series of documents including military reports were leaked to a newspaper which appeared to show poor post-war planning and lack of provisions.
- Sir John Chilcot (chairman), a career diplomat and senior civil servant who was previously a member of the Butler Review
- Sir Lawrence Freedman, a military historian, and Professor of War Studies at King's College London. His memo outlining five tests for military intervention was used by Tony Blair in drafting his Chicago foreign policy speech
- Sir Martin Gilbert, (died 3 February 2015) a historian who supported the invasion of Iraq and claimed in 2004 that George W. Bush and Blair may one day "join the ranks of Roosevelt and Churchill"
- Sir Roderic Lyne, former Ambassador to Russia and to the United Nations in Geneva, previously served as private secretary to Prime Minister John Major
- Baroness Prashar, a crossbencher, member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, and the current chairwoman of the Judicial Appointments Commission
The committee also takes secretarial support during proceedings from Margaret Aldred.
Advisors to the committee
The inquiry commenced in July 2009, with public hearings commencing on 24 November 2009 with Peter Ricketts, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee at the time of the invasion of Iraq, as the first witness. Opening the proceedings, Sir John Chilcot announced that the inquiry was not seeking to apportion blame, but to "get to the heart of what happened" but that it would not "shy away" from making criticism where it was justified. The commission resumed its hearings in January 2011 with the former prime minister, Tony Blair, as its prime witness.
29 October Protocol
On 29 October 2009, HM Government published a Protocol in agreement with the Iraq Inquiry on the treatment of sensitive written and electronic information. Evidence which will not be made available to the public includes anything likely to:
- a) cause harm or damage to the public interest, guided by the normal and established principles under which the balance of public interest is determined on grounds of Public Interest Immunity in proceedings in England and Wales, including, but not limited to,
- i) national security, defence interests or international relations;
- ii) the economic interests of the United Kingdom or of any part of the United Kingdom;
- b) endanger the life of an individual or otherwise risk serious harm to an individual;
- c) make public commercially sensitive information;
- d) breach the principle of legal professional privilege (LPP);
- e) prejudice, in the case of legal advice (following any voluntary waiver of LPP) rather than material facts, the position of HMG in relation to ongoing legal proceedings;
- f) breach the rules of law which would apply in proceedings in England and Wales under the provisions of Section 17 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000;
- g) breach the rules of law applicable to the disclosure of information by the Security Service, SIS or GCHQ, the third party rule governing non-disclosure of intelligence material or other commitments or understandings governing the release of sensitive information;
- h) breach the Data Protection Act 1998; or
- i) prejudice the course or outcome of any ongoing statutory or criminal inquiry into matters relating to the information proposed for release
The inquiry heard evidence from a variety of witnesses, such as politicians, including several cabinet ministers at the time of the invasion; senior civil servants, including lawyers and intelligence chiefs; diplomats, mostly composed of British ambassadors to Iraq and the United States; and high-ranking military officers including former Chiefs of the General Staff and Chiefs of the Defence Staff as well as senior operational commanders.
The inquiry heard mostly from civil servants, intelligence and security officials, diplomats and military officers from the first public hearings up until it recessed for Christmas. Key witnesses included Sir Christopher Meyer, former ambassador to the United States who gave evidence on 26 November; Admiral Lord Boyce, former Chief of the Defence Staff; Sir John Scarlett, Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service; Major-General Tim Cross, the most senior British officer on the ground in the aftermath of the invasion; and Air Chief Marshall Sir Brian Burridge, overall commander of British forces in the invasion.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair was publicly questioned by the enquiry on 29 January 2010, and again on 21 January 2011. On both of these occasions protests took place outside the conference centre. Because of widespread public interest in Blair's evidence, public access to the hearings had to be allocated by lottery. Special dispensations to attend were allocated to those whose close family were casualties of the war, some of whom shouted angry accusations at Blair during his second appearance.
From the inquiry's resumption in January 2010, it heard predominantly from politicians and former government officials, including Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's director of communications.
Gordon Brown had to retract his claim that spending on defence rose every year during the Iraq war, as this was found not to have been the case.
After a recess to avoid influencing the general election, the inquiry resumed public hearings on 29 June 2010. The first witness was Douglas Brand, chief police adviser to the Iraqi Interior Ministry from 2003–05.
The timing and nature of the inquiry generated a certain political controversy as it would not report back until after the general election. Conservative Party leader David Cameron, dismissed the inquiry as "an establishment stitch-up", and the Liberal Democrats threatened a boycott. In a Parliamentary debate over the establishment of the inquiry, MPs from all the major parties criticised the government's selection of its members. MPs drew attention to the absence of anyone with first hand military expertise, the absence of members with acknowledged or proven inquisitorial skills, and the absence of any elected representatives. Gilbert's appointment to the enquiry was criticised on the basis that he had once compared Bush and Blair to Roosevelt and Churchill. Several MPs drew attention to the fact that Chilcot would be unable to receive evidence under oath.
The criticism by the Liberal Democrats continued with the start of public hearings, with party leader Nick Clegg accusing the government of "suffocating" the inquiry, referring to the power given to government departments to veto sections of the final report. Meanwhile, a group of anti-war protestors staged a demonstration outside the conference centre. Concerns were also raised about the expertise of the panel, particularly with regard to issues of legality by senior judges. On 22 November 2009, former British Ambassador Oliver Miles published an article in the Independent on Sunday, in which he questioned the appointment to the inquiry panel of two British historians on the basis of their previous support for Israel. In a diplomatic cable from the US embassy in London, released as part of Cablegate, Jon Day, director general for security policy at the British Ministry of Defence is cited having promised the US to have "put measures in place to protect your interests" regarding the inquiry. This has been interpreted as an indication that the inquiry is restricted "to minimize embarrassment for the United States."
In 2012, Attorney General Dominic Grieve was criticized when he vetoed the release of documents to the Inquiry detailing minutes of Cabinet meetings in the days leading up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Concurrently, the Foreign Office successfully appealed against a judge's ruling and blocked the disclosure of extracts of a conversation between Bush and Blair moments before the invasion. The British government stated that revealing the content of a phone call between Bush and Blair moments before the invasion would later present a "significant danger" to British-American relations. In his submission to the inquiry, Philippe Sands observed that:
an independent Dutch Inquiry has recently concluded – unanimously and without ambiguity – that the war was not justified under international law. The Dutch inquiry Committee was presided by W.J.M. Davids, a distinguished former President of the Dutch Supreme Court, and four of its seven members were lawyers. The Dutch Committee was well-placed to address the substantive legal issues. I note, however, that the composition of this Inquiry includes no members with any legal background.
In 2011, the Independent published an article with 15 charges that have yet to be answered by the inquiry. Speaking at a public meeting in 2013, David Owen said that the inquiry "is being prevented from revealing extracts that they believe relevant from exchanges between President Bush and Prime Minister Blair". He blamed Blair and Cameron for this state of affairs, who he believed have entered into a private deal to prevent the publication of important documents out of mutual self-interest. It emerged that the Cabinet Office was resisting the release of "more than 130 records of conversations" between Bush and Blair, as well as "25 notes from Mr Blair to President Bush" and "some 200 cabinet-level discussions".
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