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Chilcot delay not my doing - Blair

Tony Blair insisted he was "absolutely and emphatically" not responsible for delaying a key report into Britain's role in the Iraq war and accused others of seeking to use the controversy to win votes.

Confirmation that the Iraq Inquiry findings will not be published before May's general election sparked a chorus of complaints in Westminster, with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg saying it would raise fears the final verdict was being "sexed down by individuals rebutting criticisms put to them by the inquiry ".

But the clear swipe at Mr Blair - whose case for taking the country to war with Saddam Hussein in 2003 was alleged to have been "sexed up" - drew a sharp response from the former prime minister.

Not only did he have "as much interest as anybody" in having the conclusions of the six-year process made public but he had been instrumental in ensuring the inquiry was free to publish his notes to the US President George Bush in the run-up to the US-led invasion, he insisted.

"Just to state absolutely and emphatically, this is not to do with me, or as far as I'm aware any other witness," he told Bloomberg Television at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

"I've as much interest as anybody in wanting to see the report published."

"The only issue was how much of those is it right publicly to publish. That has now been decided that they will be, partially at my own recommendation: if you're going to publish them, publish them. If you're going to do it, do it so that people can see it."

The inquiry was set up by then prime minister Gordon Brown in 2009 and took public evidence from its last witness in 2011, but publication has been held up by wrangling over the release of the confidential messages and the so-called "Maxwellisation" process by which people who are criticised in the report are given the chance to respond.

Inquiry chair Sir John Chilcot has revealed that Mr Blair's notes to Mr Bush will now be published alongside the report with only "a very small number of essential redactions" - an advance on the deal announced last year to expose only "quotes and gists".

And Mr Blair suggested political rivals were seeking to rush publication forward in order to be able to capitalise on the report as political ammunition.

"We're limbering up for an election now, there's a risk of it becoming politicised," he said.

"They should be allowed to do their job, they should resist pressure from all quarters."

Mr Clegg, whose Liberal Democrat party opposed the war, said the delay was "incomprehensible" and called on Sir John to produce a "more defined timetable, known publicly, with strict deadlines and a firm date for publication".

Ukip leader Nigel Farage said it "smacks of an establishment cover-up, and one which I suggest the British public will see right through" and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon told Sir John she was "deeply disappointed" and urged him to publish before May.

The chair of the Commons foreign affairs select committee Sir Richard Ottaway said there could be "no justification whatsoever" for the process dragging on and revealed Sir John had been summoned before the influential body to explain.

Among those criticising the delay was also Rose Gentle, from Glasgow, whose 19-year-old soldier son Gordon was among those who died in Iraq.

"We just feel totally let down. We just feel it's just going to be a total whitewash now," she told the BBC.

She said it was important that the papers should be published in full so that families of the dead could understand the reason for going to war.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who was informed in a letter from Sir John that despite "very substantial progress" there was "no realistic prospect" of being ready by the election, said it was right that he should appear before the MPs.

But he played down speculation that the process was being deliberately hampered by senior figures who could face criticism.

"It is a very thorough report and you have to give the people who are criticised in a report the opportunity to respond to all those criticisms," the PM said.

"That is what is happening at the moment. I don't believe, from what I understand, that anyone is trying to dodge this report or put off this report.

"We all want to see it but you do have to go through the proper processes."

Ed Miliband said he too hoped it would be published "as soon as possible" but the Labour leader was accused by the PM of contributing to the delays by voting against Tory attempts to have an inquiry set up before 2009.

Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls insisted that Labour wanted the findings to be published before the election.

He told LBC: "I would like to see this report published today. I would rather it was published last year. I think it is hugely frustrating that, six years after this review was set up, it's still not been published."

Mr Balls insisted politicians were "not slowing this down at all".

"Not only do we (Labour) have no problem, we would prefer it if it was published before (the election)," he said.

"In the end, you have got to be able to defend decisions, learn from decisions. This is quite a long time ago, but it still has a direct impact upon Britain's standing in the world and our foreign policy."

Mr Balls added: "I thought that we ought to have spent longer at the time seeking support for a second resolution. I think I have said on the record that when a decision was made to try and pin the blame for an absence of a second resolution on president (Jacques) Chirac and the French government, I thought that was not really quite where the debate was."

Mr Blair told the BBC: "I'm frustrated it's not been published some time ago, because for people like myself when this inquiry finally comes out, it is frankly an opportunity to come out and say 'This is why I did what I did and why I believe it was the right thing to do'.

"Not to have this report published has been a problem over the last years. It would be much better if it was."

Former diplomat Carne Ross, who quit the Foreign Office in protest at the war and gave evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry in 2009, told BBC Radio 4's PM the delay in the publication of the report was "unreasonable".

"Justice delayed is justice denied," said Mr Ross. "This has gone on far too long, and Chilcot should be called to account. Parliament would be the obvious place. We haven't had clear explanations from the Inquiry as to why this has taken so long."

A spokeswoman for the inquiry confirmed that Sir John had received the invitation to appear before the select committee and was considering his response.


From Belfast Telegraph