More from: Coverage

Thirty in the firing line – Mail on Sunday

by Chris Ames

The Mail on Sunday’s political editor Simon Walters says that:

Thirty people, including Tony Blair, are set to be heavily criticised by the Chilcot Inquiry in its ‘devastating’ attack on the Iraq War.

Well-placed sources say that ‘approximately 30’ people have been sent letters by chairman Sir John Chilcot warning them that they will be criticised in his report into the 2003 invasion.

As the story points out, during his appearance at the foreign affairs committee last week, Sir John Chilcot refused to say how many people had been sent warning letters, in case people worked out who they were.

The story also says that:

Sources close to the inquiry say its strongly worded criticisms of the way the war was handled make a nonsense of claims that it will be a ‘whitewash’.

And that:

Contrary to earlier claims, full details of the way that Blair privately promised Bush that he would go to war against Saddam – without telling MPs and British voters – will be published. Blair and Bush are said to have ‘signed in blood’ their agreement to oust Saddam Hussein in secret talks at the President’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, a year before the start of the war.

Blair’s candid words in their secret letters – with redactions to protect sensitive military and intelligence issues only – will be published word for word. Only the ‘gist’ of Bush’s comments will be published to avoid embarrassing a key foreign ally.

I’d say this is consistent with what Chilcot has already said on the matter, although it will be a surprise if we hear very much of Bush’s views.

On the issue of Maxwellisation, Walters says:

Some of the 30 or so have received letters running into hundreds of pages. One individual is said to have received a 1,200-page letter from the inquiry.

It’s unlikely that a letter is that long in itself. More likely that it had an awful lot of evidence attached.


Chilcot gives no ground on documents

by Chris Ames

Answering one of a number of questions from John Baron MP as to why the Inquiry can’t publish the “settled body of evidence” now, Sir John Chilcot gave this explanation:

To publish a reliable account in full and in immense detail but to draw no conclusions, to offer  no analysis leaves individuals and the whole story open to every kind of out of context misunderstanding. It’s very important to add the analysis, both at strategic level and at the level of individuals on top of that account so that the whole thing can be seen in the round at the same time.

The best critique of Chilcot’s appearance I have seen is from Dan Hodges for the Telegraph. This is what he made of this exchange:

He was asked if the evidence base, upon which the report’s conclusions would rest, was now broadly finalised. Yes, he said, essentially it was. So could that not be published? No. Sorry. It couldn’t. Because to publish the evidence without Chilcot and his committee providing the appropriate “context” would be unfair. People would be able to take the evidence and draw any old conclusion they liked. From the evidence.

Others, such as the Guardian’s Richard Norton-Taylor, have quite rightly given Chilcot and Sir Jeremy Heywood credit for what looks like a very liberal approach to the declassification issue. The Guardian’s Nicholas Watt reports Chilcot’s account of what we will eventually see:

The list of documents include 200 minutes of cabinet and cabinet committee meetings; 30 notes from Blair to Bush; records of conversations between Blair and world leaders such as Vladimir Putin and Jacques Chirac; records of conversations between cabinet ministers and their overseas counterparts, such as those between Jack Straw and Colin Powell; the legal advice to ministers; and a “huge quantum of papers, agendas, minutes from a wide ranging of meetings and discussions all across Whitehall which include chiefs of staff meetings; intelligence assessments by the joint intelligence committee and by the defence intelligence staff and other “intelligence product”; and telegrams from ambassadors.


But, with Chilcot refusing to give any hint on when the report will be published, it looks like it will be under wraps for some time yet.

Call for Chilcot to release Iraq documents ‘immediately’

by Chris Ames

In the Observer, Jamie Doward and I report that:

Senior politicians have called for the immediate publication of all documents cleared for release by the Iraq war inquiry.

With the report not being released until after the election, the issue now is why the Inquiry is insisting on holding back in the meantime what could amount to thousand of documents that have already been declassified. It seems to be suggesting that what it will eventually release will be linked to its findings, raising fears that it may withhold evidence that doesn’t fit with its version of events or relates to evidence that supports findings that participants in the “Maxwellisation” process have persuaded it to remove.

With one MP due to raise the issue in this week’s parliamentary debate and another prepared to challenge Chilcot at a hearing of the Foreign Affairs Committee, it will be interesting to see whether Chilcot sticks to his current approach, which is set out here.


Not the Chilcot report

by Chris Ames

The Independent has taken the admirable approach of publishing a series of articles setting out what it calls “the nearest thing that you’ll get to a definitive report on Britain’s involvement in Iraq”. It begins with a piece by Andy McSmith on September 11 and the Road to the Iraq war.

The other pieces are:

The Iraq Report – Part 2: Invasion and occupation of Iraq
The Iraq Report – Part 3: The aftermath
The Iraq Report – Part 4: Timeline of events
The Iraq Report – Part 5: The key protagonists
The Iraq Report – Part 6: A summary of the Iraq War by numbers


My first impression of McSmith’s piece is that it isn’t very good, isn’t anything like rigorous enough, and relies on gossip and what key participants have said both at the time and since to spin the story their way. It seems to skip straight past everything that happened in March 2002, as revealed by some of the Downing Street Documents, which are actual contemporaneous evidence. If we are going to have a substitute for Chilcot, it is going to have to be a lot better than this.

The lack of intellectual rigour is demonstrated in McSmith’s evaluation of whether Tony Blair lied over WMD:

in order to have lied, Blair would have had to have known that Saddam Hussein really had ordered the destruction of Iraq’s stockpile of illegal weapons.

This is simplistic in the extreme. Had Blair, for example, claimed that the intelligence that Iraq had WMD was conclusive when he knew it was not, that would have been lying. McSmith pretty well sets out that scenario, without reaching the obvious conclusion:

But just as the Prime Minister could not know for certain that there were no WMDs left in Iraq, neither could he have known that there were any. He was not lying. He was presenting to Parliament a series of guesses made by the intelligence services – but he dressed them up as if they were hard facts backed by solid intelligence.


Clegg pledges more cash

by Chris Ames

The Telegraph reports that:

Nick Clegg has promised more resources for the Iraq War inquiry team to ensure that the final report is published “in the quickest way possible”.

The Deputy Prime Minister was speaking out after The Daily Telegraph disclosed that the final report by Sir John Chilcot, which will run to over one million words, might not now be published until next year.

Mr Clegg said the Government would step in with extra funds to help the inquiry’s secretariat process replies from senior politiicians and officials who are due to be criticised in the report.

This part of the inquiry – officially called the “Maxwellisation process” – started before Christmas and has continued this week with some witnesses only receiving letters in the past few days.

Take your pick of petitions

By Chris Ames

There are two online petitions demanding the publication of the Inquiry report.

One, on the 38 Degrees website, makes the very valid point that:

When conducting the ‘Maxwelisation’ process, Chilcot should have given the respondents a fixed time period within which to reply and make it clear that at the end of that period the report would be published come what may.

Sadly though, he didn’t.

The other one is a piece of political opportunism by UKIP. At the moment, it has more signatures than 38 Degrees.

Report after election, Guardian and BBC say

by Chris Ames

The Guardian reports that:

The six-year long British inquiry into the 2003 Iraq invasion and its aftermath will not be published before the general election, prompting an outcry from those demanding that the long overdue reckoning should be put before the voters.

Similarly, the BBC’s Nick Robinson has tweeted that:

Chilcott will confirm tomorrow that the Iraq Inquiry will not report until after the election

Process of giving witnesses time to respond to allegations against them cannot be completed in time to publish Iraq Inquiry pre election

Standby for Chilcott’s explanation for post-election delay to Iraq inquiry. Will come tomorrow morning I hear

Let’s get together – Sturgeon

by Chris Ames

The BBC (and others) reports that

Scotland’s first minister has urged political consensus in demanding that the long-awaited report into the Iraq war be published as soon as possible.


Nicola Sturgeon has written to all Scottish party leaders urging them to unite in seeking publication.


BBC Scotland’s political editor Brian Taylor said the first minister’s call for political leaders in Scotland to unite on the issue of publication was an initiative “designed to embarrass the Labour party”.

It does look if this is a move in Scotland, rather than UK-wide. Either way the silence from Labour on the issue has been deafening.

As I noted last week, the BBC continues to support the government on the issue, adding the words “closely-fought” to a justification so weak even the government has deployed a new excuse:

UK government ministers have conceded that if the final report is not completed by the end of February, it would be wrong to release it in the heat of a closely-fought election campaign.

Lazy, inept copy-and-paste journalism.

Meanwhile, the Sunday Telegraph has an interview with Malcolm Rifkind, chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee:

Another report which Sir Malcolm wants to see published as soon as possible is Sir John Chilcot’s long-delayed verdict on his inquiry into the Iraq War.

“I think it’s awful that it’s not being published this side of the end of the parliament. I think it’s appalling.” One reason given for the delays has been that individuals facing criticism – believed to include Tony Blair – have been given a final opportunity to respond.

“That should be able to be done in weeks, not months,” Sir Malcolm says. “It is counterproductive. It is against the national interest to have a report of this kind hanging around for as long as it is.”

Update: the SNP seems to have goaded Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy to comment:

The Chilcot Inquiry is a crucially important piece of work that must be conducted thoroughly and forensically.

The Inquiry was initiated by Labour in July 2009, because it is vital to identify the lessons that can be learned from the conflict.

There is rightly real public interest in the findings of such an important inquiry and I think it is right that there is the earliest possible publication of the report.

Whether “the earliest possible publication” is a rejection of ministers’ end of February deadline is unclear.


Report unlikely before election – Standard

by Chris Ames

The Evening Standard’s Joe Murphy reports that:

Anger grew today as new evidence emerged that the delayed Iraq War inquiry may not be published until after the general election.

The Evening Standard has learned that one witness received a formal  letter inviting a response to criticism only last month, which suggests the report is far from completion.

Other witnesses are said to be still waiting for documents in order to comment on them, indicating that chairman Sir John Chilcot and his team are far behind schedule.

One figure who has had close dealings with the Chilcot inquiry believed letters only began to be issued in the autumn, adding: “There’s no way it can be published before the election at this rate. It will not reflect well on the inquiry.”

A lot of this story is worth unpicking to assess how much of it is speculation, how much spin and how much based on fact. The first point to note is that your assessment of whether the report will be published before the election depends on whether you accept the government’s end of February deadline. In addition, people inside government have been keen of late to blame the Inquiry. On the hand, I have also heard it said that the Inquiry appears less than efficient.

The idea that “Maxwellisation” letters to people who might be criticised only went out in the autumn is not a new one. In fact, the Mail reported in November that the letters had gone out “some time ago”. How you view that is a glass half full/glass half empty issue. It might be that the Inquiry prioiritised the main recipients or that some letters were delayed until the Inquiry was sure that the relevant evidence could be published. We were only told last week that the process of agreeing the specifics of what can be published had been completed.

The Standard also points out that:

Any inquiry must give adequate time for people to respond to Maxwell letters or it could face judicial review.

It’s a valid point. A lot else in the story is speculation.


More from Llwyd and Davis

by Chris Ames

Elfyn Llwyd, who features in this morning’s Observer story on the Inquiry, has been speaking on the issue on the BBC today:

Delaying the report of the inquiry into the Iraq war until after the general election would offend the families of fallen service people, a Plaid Cymru MP has said.

Elfyn Llwyd, the party’s Westminster leader, is among MPs pushing for findings of the Chilcot inquiry to be published before the election in May.

He said that “somebody somewhere is sitting on that draft report”.

David Cameron said the delay was to give those criticised time to respond.

In the Commons last week, the prime minister said the report was “largely finished” but it was “not within my power to grant the publication of this report”.

But Mr Llwyd told BBC Wales’s Sunday Politics: “That’s not correct. As soon as that report is ready, the timing is up to the prime minister.

“And it seems to me that we’ve got the whole month of March with very little scheduled for it. We could debate this very important report.

“Failure to do so undermines the credibility of that report and I think it’s offensive to those who lost loved ones in the conflict.”

Meanwhile, the Sunday Telegraph also covers the move to get a parliamentary debate, although it largely focuses on the delay in completing the report, rather than what happens next. Tory MP David Davis features in that story and also writes in the Sunday Times (paywall):

THE IRAQ WAR claimed the lives of more than 100,000 soldiers and civilians. The country’s infrastructure was destroyed, huge amounts of the West’s political capital were spent and what is in effect a long-running civil war was precipitated. It was because of this disastrous toll that the Labour government under Gordon Brown set up the Chilcot inquiry to investigate the causes of the war, the war itself and the aftermath.

The inquiry has now been running for more than 2,000 days. The total cost is expected to exceed £10m. More than 120 witnesses have given public evidence. But as yet the inquiry has reported nothing.

We are no more enlightened as to the failures in the lead-up to, during and after the Iraq War than we were in 2009 when Brown initiated the inquiry. Only last week the distinguished former foreign secretary Lord Hurd described this as a scandal.

The Yorkshire Post prints some more of Davis’ piece:

It has been widely reported that the delay to the £10m inquiry, which was set up by Gordon Brown in 2009, is to enable individuals, like Mr Blair and Jack Straw, the then Foreign Secretary, to respond to criticisms made of their decision-making.

However Mr Davis was dismissive of this. Writing in The Sunday Times, he said:After five years there has been ample time and there is no good reason to delay the report any further. The perception of politicians and elites colluding to hide the truth from the public is damaging to all parties at a time when politicians are already held in poor regard.

“It is not just the families of those lost in the military conflict that deserve to have their questions answered…the whole country can move on and purge the spectre of Iraq only through knowing what happened in its entirety. Truth and reconciliation first require the truth.”

Mr Davis said his “greatest concern” was that the report was being delayed in order to mask “any embarrassing revelations about our relationship with the United States”. Saying the “time has come to be publish or be damned”, he added: “Were this to be true, it would make the inquiry an essentially pointless exercise.”