The release of the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war has been delayed until next year due to arguments about controversial content and the behaviour of leading individuals.
The report was initially delayed due to a three year dispute between Sir John Chilcot and UK cabinet secretaries including Gus O’Donnell and Jeremy Heywood over which notes of conversations between then-Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George W. Bush could be published. Subsequent minutes of cabinet meetings where discussions were disseminated were also debated, the Guardianreports.
Now Tony Blair, his Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and the Head of MI6 Sir Richard Dearlove are said to be unhappy about what the report makes of their behaviour in the decision to take Britain to war without a UN Security Council mandate.
Sir John waited for those discussions to be concluded before sending out letters to those he intended to criticise in his report which included draft passages where they are featured so they can respond before final publication. It is understood some of those criticised in the report may be seeking legal advice.
But the delays, which may last until 2016, are deeply frustrating for the families of the 179 military personnel who died in the invasion and subsequent operations following the toppling of Saddam Hussein.
But it will be seen as good news to the Labour campaign since the strongest accusations of wrongdoing will inevitably land at the feet of the then-Labour government whose ranks included politicians standing for re-election in less than three weeks time.
Witnesses have told the Guardian they intend to deliver devastating criticism of the Blair government, but are holding back until Chilcot has published his report.
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats, who were against the invasion. have called for the findings to be released as soon as possible.
The party’s foreign affair’s spokesman, Tim Farron, described the possibility that the report may now not be out until next year as “deeply concerning.”
“It is simply not good enough for this process to be continually delayed and the report must be published,” he said.
With a lacklustre election campaign and key figures within the party looking likely to lose their seats, any negative reports of the war they opposed will be welcomed with open arms.
But Mr Blair has rejected suggestions he is behind the delay, saying it would be “far better” if the report were published and any accusations that he was responsible were “incorrect and politically motivated.”
The report will include details of more than 130 recorded conversations between Blair and Bush and records of 200 cabinet discussions as well as publishing documents that reveal which ministers, legal advisers and officials were excluded from discussions on military action.
One of those legal advisers, Professor Steven Haines, left his job as Strategic Analyst and Legal Advisor at Shrivenham in 2003 after two years working on the development of strategic doctrine and legal issues and heading up the board authoring the UK’s official Law of Armed Conflict Manual.
He was, and remains, adamant that the invasion was unlawful, telling the Defence Select Committee:
“In 2003, it was arguably the case that the invasion of Iraq was contrary to international law. As an international lawyer, I believe it was unlawful—and the bulk of international legal opinion agrees with me. I have to say that the legal case put forward by Lord Goldsmith at the time was logical, well thought through—rigorous, indeed—and for some it was persuasive. However, it would not have prevailed if the matter had ever been put through a judicial process during which international law was applied.”
The inquiry has had access to more than 150,000 government documents and cross-examined 129 witnesses at a cost of £million. But Chilcot, a former civil servant himself, made an agreement with Whitehall that they would have the final say over what was published. Consequently, a deal was struck that with some documents, only the “gist” would be published.
The reasons given to MPs who voted for Britain to go to war were said to be based on “sexed up” intelligence about Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction. Once the UN Security Council rejected the British and American resolution 1441, the arguments for going to war moved from what are known as ‘Chapter VII’ decisions such as an imminent threat to peace and security to humanitarian reasons which, despite being emotive, do not on their own under international law provide argument to launch a military offensive on another country.