Iraq inquiry chairman grilled by MPs over report delay

John Chilcot, chairman of the Iraq Inquiry (Reuters / Luke MacGregor)
The chair of the official inquiry into the 2003 invasion of Iraq was grilled by MPs on Wednesday about delays in the publication of his report which mean it will no longer be released until after May’s general election.

It’s the first time Sir John Chilcot has been publicly questioned about his work on the report since its inception in 2009.

When questioned about the timescale Chilcot reiterated points he had made previously, saying that they were committed to producing a thorough and impartial report, and the delays were primarily due to the process of maxwellisation - allowing those who had been criticized to respond.

He also announced that there were now whole classes of government information that were previously kept secret that were now being published as a result of pressure from the inquiry, suggesting it the report will be a landmark of Whitehall openness.

The inquiry, however, is reportedly still undergoing negotiations with Whitehall about how much of the sensitive material in classified documents can be made public.

READ MORE:‘Laughing stock of the world’: MPs debate Iraq Inquiry delay

Chris Ames, editor of the Iraq Inquiry Digest, said negotiations are likely to continue until “the inquiry’s report is finalized.”

Chilcot did not, as predicted, give a publication date for the report, but assured the committee that to his knowledge eye-witnesses were not deliberately delaying progress via maxwellisation.

Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood told MPs last September the Cabinet Office has had to process “tens of thousands of requests for declassification of very complicated and sensitive documents.”

In January, Chilcot said there was no “realistic prospect” of the report being released before the general election; an announcement which was met with anger from MPs and the public, who say the report must be published immediately.

The inquiry last took evidence in 2011 and is expected to be over a million words long.

The cross-party committee examining Chilcot on Wednesday was led by Sir Richard Ottaway, who previously said it would focus on “the preparation of his report” and the “obstacles which remain before he can submit it to the prime minister.

“This is an opportunity for Sir John Chilcot to set out the reasons for the delay,” he told Radio 4's Today program.

READ MORE:Blair: 'Don't blame me for Iraq inquiry delays'

“We want him to have a look at the overall timeframe he has been operating under or not been operating under. We want to pose some questions to him about the evidence and the publication of evidence.”

In January Chilcot offered some indications for the delay.

“To ensure that the conclusions we reach are well-founded it is essential that our approach should be rigorous and comprehensive,” he said.

“We are conscious of our responsibility – to the public and to all those whose lives have been deeply affected by the events we are examining – to discharge our duty thoroughly, impartially and fairly.”

Speaking to RT, Labour MP and Stop the War Coalition supporter Jeremy Corbyn slammed the ongoing delay.

“It’s an absurd decision by the Commission to delay the publication yet again.

“I think the report coming out actually ignites that whole debate and makes people begin to think what kind of foreign policy we should be adopting. Should we be a poodle of the United States or should we be doing something more independent and less aligned to what wishes of whatever the US administration happens to be.”