Sir John Chilcot has announced that he is to publish his report into the Iraq war next June or July after government officials were given up to three months to carry out “national security checking” on its findings.
In a letter to the prime minister, who had expressed frustration with the delays to the report, the former Northern Ireland office permanent secretary said he would finally complete his work seven years after the inquiry was set up by Gordon Brown.
Chilcot pre-empted criticism of his decision to allow the report to be cleared by officials by saying it is necessary to avoid an inadvertent breach of national security. He also said it would be necessary to ensure there had been no breach of article two of the European convention on human rights – the right to life.
The publication has been held up by two factors. Chilcot was involved in a lengthy wrangle with two successive cabinet secretaries – Gus O’Donnell and Sir Jeremy Heywood – over the publication of correspondence between Tony Blair and George W Bush.
These focused on whether Blair provided undertakings to Bush in the run-up to the invasion in 2003 – around the time of his visit to Bush in Crawford, Texas, in April 2002 – that Britain would join US forces.
This then paved the way for the Maxwellisation process in which the Chilcot team sent sections of the report to witnesses who were to be criticised.
This is a lengthy process because witnesses have the right to respond. The news that Chilcot will finally publish his work comes shortly after Blair issued a partial apology for elements of the Iraq war.
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