More from: Coverage

Panorama’s ‘Final Judgement’

by Andrew Mason

Tonight at 21.00:

Iraq: The Final Judgement

As the country awaits next week’s verdict from the long-delayed Iraq Inquiry into why we went to war and what the lessons should be, Jane Corbin returns to southern Iraq. With her are parents who lost a son, a soldier there and the general who led British troops into battle. Why did it all go so wrong?

And on iPlayer thereafter for 12 months – link here.

Read this first…probably

by Chris Ames

I am told by the Inquiry that there is no update on plans to give the report to the government for National Security Checking this week.

In the meantime, my colleague Peter Oborne has written a book Not the Chilcot Report, which is to be published on 19 May, almost certainly before Chilcot publishes.

Here’s the story on the book on the Bookseller website:

According to the publisher, Not the Chilcot Report is a “concise summary of what should be in the Chilcot Report”. The publisher added: “Peter Oborne shows how the British government colluded in deceiving the public, grossly exaggerating the threat from Saddam Hussein. The book will prove that Tony Blair repeatedly misled the British people in his determination to stand with America at all costs.”

The publisher continued: “The invasion of Iraq was ‘the defining calamity of the post-cold war era’, in Peter Oborne’s words. It has led to the collapse of the state system in the Middle East. Iraq is shattered, Syria may never be put back together again. And the great wave of refugees unleashed by this breakdown is threatening what is left of democracy in Turkey and the very existence of the European Union.

“Oborne provides a forensic examination of the way evidence was doctored and the law manipulated in order to justify a war for regime change. The government bent facts to fit its determination to go to war, Parliament failed to scrutinise wild allegations, the intelligence service was perverted, and the media lost its head.”

Oborne said: “I hope that this short book, which is based very largely on evidence publicly presented to the Inquiry, will assist lay readers who want to make sense of Chilcot. It stretches to 35,000 carefully written words. The Iraq Inquiry by contrast is a reported 2 million words long –  which is approximately four times the length of War and Peace.”

I should declare an interest: I have read through and checked the book at Oborne’s request and am acknowledged in its foreword.






I (will) admit I was wrong – Hague

by Chris Ames

In an article in the Telegraph that makes the case for intervention in Syria by citing the Rwandan Genocide Memorial, William Hague, who was at the forefront of Tory calls for an inquiry into Iraq, says:

Back in London, Sir John Chilcot is laboriously assembling a very different monument – the long overdue report on the handling of the Iraq war. There are other monuments to lives lost in Iraq, but this one will contain a small pile of ruined reputations rather than a large one of broken bodies, and we can expect it to teach us a very different point: that military interventions, even those that are well-intentioned and promoted by democratic political leaders, can go seriously wrong.

When it is finally published, the Chilcot report will be a document for those of us who have often supported military interventions to reflect on, and it will be a time to acknowledge that we were wrong about the invasion of Iraq. We relied too much on evidence that turned out to be flimsy, and let our most important ally, the United States, become exhausted when there were many other battles to fight.

The Telegraph headlines the article “I admit it – Iraq was a mistake”, which suggests that Hague is saying that the invasion – as opposed to the country – was a mistake.

The use of tenses here is interesting. Hague is both saying that he will admit he was wrong when the report comes out and saying now what he and others were wrong about. In doing so he joins the ranks of politicians who thinks he knows what the report will say. For example, he is assuming that the report will say that the invasion was well-intentioned and relied on evidence, as opposed to taking place on a cooked-up pretext.

Back on the subject of Syria, Hague asks:

So how can we know, the sceptic can justifiably ask, that in 10 years’ time we will not be waiting for a Chilcot-style inquiry into Syria, with the weighty monument to failed interventions growing taller still?

It’s a question that Hague puts forward in order to provide a positive answer but, in doing so, he again pre-empts Chilcot.

When will they learn?

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