Author: By Joe Churcher, Press Association
The former senior civil servant and his four-strong panel will set out the
terms of reference for the process, which is set to take at least a year to
examine the issues.
He has already stated that he feels it “essential” that as much evidence as
possible is heard in public, after Prime Minister Gordon Brown was forced to
abandon plans for a behind-closed-doors probe.
Sir John, who was a member of Lord Butler’s 2004 inquiry into the intelligence
used to justify the invasion, has also been looking into ways to put
witnesses under some form of “oath”.
Mr Brown’s original announcement that the inquiry would not be open was met
with scorn and derision by a string of senior political and military figures
and sparked a hasty U-turn.
It was reported that predecessor Tony Blair, who sent British troops into the
conflict alongside US forces, had urged him to allow witnesses to give
evidence in secret.
The Government also quickly moved away from Mr Brown’s initial insistence that
it would not apportion blame, with Foreign Secretary David Miliband telling
MPs it could “praise or blame whoever it likes”.
The inquiry is expected to look at an eight-year period from summer 2001 to
July 2009, taking in the build-up to the invasion and the intelligence used
to justify it, the March 2003 conflict itself and the aftermath right up to
this year’s withdrawal of UK troops.
It has been promised access to “the fullest range of information, including
secret information” and will be able to call on any British documents and
The Prime Minister has said that “given the complexity of the issues” it would
take a year, meaning that its conclusions will not be published until next
July at the earliest.
That is after the last possible date for the next general election, leading
Tory leader David Cameron and other critics to suggest it has been fixed by
the Government to avoid “facing up to any inconvenient conclusions”.
Sir John has been consulting with the leaders of political parties and others
directly affected by the conflict, such as bereaved relatives of service
personnel, in drawing up the details of the inquiry.
In a letter to Mr Brown, he said: “I believe it will be essential to hold as
much of the proceedings of the inquiry as possible in public, consistent
with the need to protect national security and to ensure and enable complete
candour in the oral and written evidence from witnesses.”
Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Nick Harvey said: “Public confidence in
government was badly hit by the murky and disastrous decisions taken in the
run-up to the Iraq war.
“If there is to be any hope of rebuilding public trust, it is essential that
the vast majority of this inquiry is held in public.
“The only exception to this must be when there are genuine matters of grave
national security at stake.
“The decision-making process on what evidence is heard publicly and privately
must be fully transparent and independent of Government.”
Sir John is an intelligence expert who was the top civil servant in the
Northern Ireland Office and a member of Lord Butler’s 2004 inquiry into Iraq
The other members of the inquiry team are: Baroness Usha Prashar, Sir Roderick
Lyne, Sir Lawrence Freedman and Sir Martin Gilbert.
Former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said the inquiry should
explore how the Government came to its decision to go to war in Iraq, an
issue that former inquiries had not dealt with.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “How was it that the Cabinet apparently
was taken along the path towards military action without any kind of
resistance, except for example from Robin Cook and Clare Short?
“Just exactly what was the role of the Attorney General – did the Cabinet ever
see the Attorney General’s very sceptical legal opinion of March 7 2003?
“These are issues that go right to the very heart of Government and issues on
which lessons ought to be learned.”
But Lord Anderson, the former Labour MP who chaired the Commons foreign
affairs committee into the war, said former inquiries had already delved
into the issue of Government.
“It is difficult to see what new evidence can emerge as the stones are
turned,” he told Today.
“Certainly Lord Butler, for example, criticised the style of Government, the
informality of decision-making, the armchair approach.
“But he did conclude … that prior to the war the Iraqi regime had the
intention of resuming the pursuit of prohibited weapons programmes.”
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