UK Politics

Q&A: Sir John Chilcot's Iraq war inquiry

The inquiry panel, headed by Sir John Chilcot, is currently sifting through all the evidence. It will not publish its report until the second half of 2013 - eighteen months later than anticipated after concerns about whether all the documents it wants to refer to will be declassified by the government.

What is the remit of the inquiry?

It is looking at events between 2001 and 2009, covering the decision to go to war, whether troops were properly prepared, how the conflict was conducted and what planning there was for its aftermath. Inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot says he will not shirk from apportioning blame where he sees fit. 179 British service personnel were killed in Iraq between 2003 and 2009. Tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians died over the period, though estimates vary considerably.

What have been the points of controversy?

Critics of the war argue the US administration of President George W Bush had effectively decided to remove Saddam Hussein by force by the middle of 2002, and that the UK was aware of this and offered its support. Sir Christopher Meyer, the UK's man in Washington at the time, highlighted in his evidence a private meeting between President Bush and Tony Blair in April 2002, after which Mr Blair began to talk publicly about regime change. Sir David Manning, Mr Blair's former foreign policy adviser, said Mr Blair signalled his intention to back regime change but urged President Bush to get UN authorisation for it. Alastair Campbell, ex-No 10 communications director, said Mr Blair wrote private notes, as yet unpublished, to President Bush during 2002 suggesting the UK would ultimately take part in military action if diplomatic efforts failed.

Who gave evidence?

Tony Blair and former foreign secretary Jack Straw were among a number of witnesses called to give evidence twice. Other senior ministers involved in the run-up to the war, including former chancellor and prime minister Gordon Brown, defence secretary Geoff Hoon and international development secretary Clare Short, also appeared. The inquiry took evidence from a Foreign Office lawyer who quit in protest at the war. It also heard from senior diplomats, civil servants and military commanders involved in the build-up and military campaign, as well as the former UN weapons expert Hans Blix.

What did they say?

In his first appearance in February 2010, Mr Blair described Saddam Hussein as a "monster" and said while he took responsibility for leading the UK to war, he did not regret doing it. Recalled to give evidence in January 2011, he insisted disarming Iraq, not regime change in itself, was the reason for sending UK troops into battle and denied giving any private assurances to President Bush that the UK would take part in military action. Second time around, however, Mr Blair offered his "deep and profound regret" for the loss of life of UK personnel and Iraqi citizens.

Did witnesses testify on oath?

No they did not, leading some to question the merits of the inquiry. However, all those appearing were asked to sign a piece of paper saying they gave a "full and truthful" account of events. There has also been controversy over the powers of the panel. There are no judges or QCs on the body, leading many to question whether it has the expertise to question the war's legality. But the panel has said it will call on relevant legal advice where needed.

Were the public able to watch the hearings?

Most hearings were held in public after Sir John said it was "essential" that the inquiry was as open as possible. A number of sessions took place in private where the inquiry thought doing so in public would damage national security. In some cases, the transcripts of these sessions have been published with certain details redacted.

Are the public able to read all the all relevant documents?

There has been criticism that some important documents have not been declassified, meaning that although the inquiry can view them they cannot be made public. Correspondence between Mr Blair and President Bush, and details of recorded conversations between the two men, will remain secret. Sir John has said he was "disappointed" by this, but Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell said it was in the "public interest" not to disclose this information as it could "prejudice relations" between countries by "inhibiting future exchanges" between their leaders. The inquiry has said it is still pressing for more secret documents to be declassified so it could refer to them in the final report.

When did the inquiry begin?

In July 2009. Sir John and the four other panel members met some of the families of UK personnel killed in Iraq between 2003 and 2009 as well as former and current serving personnel. Several relatives of those killed criticised the decision to go to war, saying the British people had been lied to about the threat posed by Iraq.

This is not the first inquiry into Iraq, is it?

No. There have already been four separate inquiries into aspects of the Iraq conflict. In 2003, the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee and the joint Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee both looked into the intelligence used to justify the war. The Hutton inquiry, in January 2004, examined the circumstances surrounding the death of scientist and weapons adviser Dr David Kelly. The Butler inquiry, in July 2004, looked once again at intelligence used to justify the war.

When will the inquiry's findings be published?

The last round of hearings ended in February 2011. At the time, the inquiry said it hoped to hand its finished report to the prime minister as soon as possible after that. But in November, it cautioned that there was "much work" still to do and the report would not be completed until the summer of 2012 at the earliest. In July 2012 it announced a further delay, saying its work was "unprecedented in scope" and the report likely to total a million words. It now hopes to complete the document in late 2013 - once anyone whose conduct is criticised has had a right to reply.

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