‘Scathing’: Clamor grows for Iraq war inquiry redactions from senior Whitehall figures

‘Scathing’: Clamor grows for Iraq war inquiry redactions from senior Whitehall figures
Draft reports of a public inquiry into the UK's 2003 Iraq war have rattled Britain’s establishment, with senior Whitehall figures battling to sanitize its findings. Critics say the war was central to the rise of ISIS, and the fragmentation of Iraq.

Excerpts from Sir John Chilcot’s long-delayed report, some of which are hundreds of pages long, have been dispatched to those whose conduct during the conflict is under investigation.

One well-informed source told The Times that the report’s findings are far more scathing than expected, and have prompted a legal firestorm deep in Britain’s establishment.

“The lawyers are getting called in all over the shop,” he told the paper, emphasizing the report was “more punchy” than people had anticipated.

Former military officials central to the inquiry, who were embroiled in the planning and execution of the 2003 invasion, are said to be particularly irate.

Under UK law, any individual who faces criticism in a public inquiry must be issued with an official letter warning them of allegations in its findings. They are then subsequently permitted to rebut and counter unsavory or unsatisfactory findings.

Former British foreign secretary Jack Straw (Reuters)

Letters containing in-depth conclusions of Chilcot’s inquiry were sent to the inquiry’s primary participants in November. Among those who received such correspondence were former Prime Minister Tony Blair and former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. The ex-Labour ministers were reportedly warned of key criticisms central to the inquiry’s findings.

One minister has confirmed that lawyers are now deeply involved in the final phase of the inquiry, which began in 2009. Commenting on the developments, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, who holds the position of government whip, told peers: “The inquiry does have to consult those whom it will criticize and allow them to provide a defense.”

Wallace acknowledged that legal posturing could delay the final publication of the report until after May’s general election. The government minister and whip said the timing of the final report’s release was dependent on those who faced criticism in the report and their lawyers.

William Wallace, Baron Wallace of Saltaire (Image from wikipedia.org)

He also suggested the report would not be released in the immediate run-up to the May general election because it carried too much political weight.

“We are all anxious that if it is not published by the end of February it would be inappropriate to publish it during the campaign period,” he said.

Earlier this year, Blair insisted he was not to blame for the report’s delay. The former PM said he resented claims that he was holding up its release, and emphasized “the sooner it is published the better.”

“I have got as much interest as anyone in seeing the inquiry publish its findings – and then being able to go out and frankly restate my case and defend my position,” he said.

A heated and drawn-out dispute with Washington regarding the release of key communications between Blair and then-US President George W Bush finally came to a resolution recently following a compromise agreement brokered by UK Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood.

Quartet Representative to the Middle East and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. (Reuters/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)

Experts argue the omission of potentially crucial correspondence between Blair and Bush raises serious questions about the Chilcot Inquiry's legitimacy, and points toward a prevailing culture of secrecy in Britain’s defense and security service establishment.

At present, it’s unclear precisely what proportion of the five-year inquiry’s findings will be made public. Lord Wallace claims the Chilcot report will publish “notes from more than 200 Cabinet meetings … including some extracts from Cabinet minutes.”

MPs, campaigners and citizens have warned the report’s findings may amount to a whitewash, however, vindicating a brutal and unnecessary war that cast an ominous hue over Tony Blair’s decade-long leadership.

Despite growing pressure on ministers to publish the findings of the substantially postponed Chilcot Inquiry, its precise release date still remains unknown.

Critics say the inquiry has become an establishment farce. It has been so drawn-out that one leading member of the investigation has retired due to ailing health.

Recently published figures suggest the cost of the inquiry could surpass £11 million. Senior figures central to the inquiry, including Blair, are expected have their legal fees paid by the UK taxpayer.