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Iraq war probe delay 'intolerable'

Sir Menzies Campbell has attacked the latest delay in the inquiry into the Iraq war.
Sir Menzies Campbell has attacked the latest delay in the inquiry into the Iraq war.

The latest delay in the inquiry into the Iraq war is "intolerable" and the public has a right to know the full story behind Britain's involvement, one of the conflict's most prominent opponents has said.

Inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot has requested that more than 150 letters and conversations between former prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and then-US president George Bush should be declassified, but no agreement has been reached with the Government's most senior official.

Prime Minister David Cameron said the process needed to be handled "sensitively" but hoped that the consideration of the papers could be concluded as soon as possible.

But former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell, who as the party's foreign affairs spokesman was one of the most vehement critics of the war, said: "It is intolerable that the work of the inquiry should be thwarted at this late stage.

"Sir John Chilcot and his colleagues have now been engaged in this for more than four years since 2009 when the inquiry was set up.

"The Iraq adventure is one of the most serious failures of government policy in the last 50 years. There is every reason to require that, in the public interest, the full story should be told."

The latest hitch in the process centres on the criticisms that the inquiry's report will make of "relevant individuals" - thought to include Mr Blair - and the evidence that will be published to support the findings.

The task of informing individuals about the provisional criticisms that will be made of them - known as Maxwellisation - has been delayed because of the failure to reach agreement with the country's most senior civil servant, cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood, about the disclosure of sensitive documents.

In a letter to Mr Cameron explaining the delay Sir John said discussions between the inquiry team and Sir Jeremy started earlier this year on the "most difficult categories" of material.

He wrote: "Indeed, beginning in June this year the inquiry has submitted 10 requests covering some 200 cabinet-level discussions, 25 notes from Mr Blair to president Bush and more than 130 records of conversations between either Mr Blair or Mr Brown and president Bush."

He added that he was grateful for the cabinet office's work on disclosing less sensitive material but "it is regrettable that the Government and the inquiry have not reached a final position on the disclosure of these most difficult categories of document".

Sir John added: "I and my colleagues have agreed that the inquiry should not issue those provisional criticisms without a clear understanding of what supporting evidence will be agreed for publication.

"The inquiry has therefore contacted the relevant individuals to notify them that the Maxwellisation timetable has been delayed and that we are not yet able to confirm when we will be in a position to provide them with the material that they expect."

In his reply to Sir John the Prime Minister said he was "aware of the scale of the task declassification has presented to a number of Government departments" and the Cabinet Office and other ministries had been asked to deal with requests relating to "several thousand documents".

He added: "I appreciate that consideration of the disclosure requests for the remaining sensitive categories of information must be handled sensitively and carefully but I hope that consideration of the final sets of papers can be concluded as soon as possible."

Sir Menzies said the public had a right to expect the inquiry's report to be published.

"The chairman's letter to the Prime Minister makes it clear that there are individuals whose conduct may be subject to criticism," he said. "It is unfair on them that this matter should be dragged out, but much more to the point it is wholly against the public interest that the full story should not be told."

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: "Discussions are continuing between Government and the inquiry about the disclosure of records. At the outset the Government assured the inquiry of its full co-operation."

Kate Hudson, general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said: "Not content with kicking the Chilcot Inquiry into the long grass, the Government now appears to have driven it into the woods.

"How much longer can they keep up this charade? It is now over a decade since Tony Blair took the UK into a bloody war in Iraq based on a lie.

"Yet the Government won't produce key conversations between Blair and George Bush. To say these conversations are 'central' to the inquiry is an understatement - they are crucial to understanding the path to war, including if Blair guaranteed unconditional UK support for an illegal invasion.

"How are we to learn the lessons of this gruesome period if conversations between the British prime minister and the US president are withheld?"


From Belfast Telegraph