No whitewash for Iraq inquiry

By public demand Gordon Brown’s early efforts to keep the inquiry into the Iraq war secret were defeated by the chairman himself Sir John Chilcott, former father confessor to the intelligence community and NIO chief. In that role, he had probably the most extensive knowledge of anyone of MI5’s role in the province and throughout the UK. I can feel hackles rising already at the sight of his pedigree but even the most grudging of his critics have to admit he made a good start. For the inquiry launching in public on Monday, Chilcott knows where to search for all the (metaphorical) bodies and intense scrutiny will keep him up to the mark. If he has a bias it might be to defend the rank and file of the intelligence community from exploitation by politicians. So look out Tony Blair. It’s probably right to keep the lawyers out of the inquiry, in favour of a more worldly wise group who are also as independent as you’re likely to get. An investigative rather than an inquisitorial approach is the key to producing meaty conclusions in about two years’ time. As veteran Whitehall watcher Peter Riddell says:

So it will not be like the Scott inquiry into arms to Iraq; the Hutton inquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly — and especially not like the 11-year, and rising, Saville inquiry into Bloody Sunday. However, unlike the similarly constituted Franks inquiry into the Falklands conflict in 1982, Sir John has ensured that most of the hearings will be in public.
Although the report will come out long after the election, Labour’s recored will hardly escape scrutiny in the meantime.
The Daily Telegraph stable has been scooping the media again with selected leaks about the planning chaos and rotten equipment etc.It was so often thus, up to D Day anyway – the military never ready, the politicians always pushing. While the paper comes near to accusing Tony Blair of lying to Parliament, by denying war preparations even as they were going on, to me the leaks don’t add up to the smoking gun and can be written off as a political necessity – like John Major’s denial of secret contacts with the IRA. Stormy relations between the Britain and American military also featured in WW2 – only then, they began with American suspicions of all those crafty Brits, before the Spielberg-style US roll-over began.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London