FRANCIS ELLIOTT AND MICHAEL SAVAGE
THE TIMES, DECEMBER 18, 2014
DRAFTS of the official inquiry into the Iraq war have sent shockwaves through the British bureaucracy, with key players fighting to tone down or even delete the criticism.
Extracts from the much-delayed report by John Chilcot, which in some cases run to hundreds of pages, have been sent in recent weeks to those criticised for their conduct, to give them a chance to respond before the report is published.
“The lawyers are getting called in all over the shop,” one source said. “It’s much more punchy than people thought it was going to be.”
There is said to be particular consternation among former military personnel who were involved in the planning and operation of the Iraq invasion in March 2003.
A minister admitted that lawyers had become heavily involved in the final stages of the official inquiry, set up in 2009.
“The inquiry does have to consult those whom it will criticise and allow them to provide a defence,” Lord Wallace of Saltaire, a government whip, said.
He acknowledged that the wrangling could delay final publication until after the general election in May. “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,” he said.
Lord Wallace said the final timing was dependent on those criticised in the report and “I am afraid to say ... on their lawyers”.
One of those who is expected to be criticised said that it was Sir John who was to blame for the delay. In a progress report on its findings two years ago, the inquiry head said one of the academics on the panel, Martin Gilbert, had suffered a serious illness. The historian, who had a stroke, did not return to the inquiry subsequently.
A lengthy dispute with the US over the publication of communications between Tony Blair and George W. Bush was finally resolved only after an agreement brokered by Jeremy Heywood, the cabinet secretary.
It is not yet clear how much material will be made public, but Lord Wallace said the Chilcot report would publish “notes from more than 200 cabinet meetings ... including some extracts from cabinet minutes”.
David Cameron said in May he hoped the report would be published this year.