UK Politics

Iraq War report: MPs' anger as Chilcot inquiry delayed until after general election

Sir John Chilcot Image copyright PA
Image caption Sir John Chilcot began his work in 2009

MPs have reacted angrily to news that the official inquiry into the 2003 Iraq War will not report until after the general election.

Inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot said he could see "no realistic prospect" of publication before the 7 May election.

Prime Minister David Cameron said the delay was "extremely frustrating", while Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said it was "incomprehensible".

Sir John also faces questioning on the delays by a committee of MPs.

Conservative MP Sir Richard Ottaway, chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote to Sir John on Tuesday night - before the latest development - asking him to explain why his report had been delayed.

Sir Richard said there could be "no justification whatsoever" for the process taking so long.

'Long enough'

In a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron, Sir John said "very substantial progress" had been made since his last update, but said the process of allowing people criticised to respond was still taking place.

He could give "no accurate estimate" of a completion date but that it would take "some further months".

In his response, Mr Cameron said he would have liked the report to have been published already and criticised the previous government for not establishing it earlier.

The inquiry began its work in 2009 and held its last public hearing in 2011.

It has been looking into the reasons for the UK's involvement in the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein and the aftermath of the conflict, which saw UK troops remain in Iraq until 2009.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Tony Blair gave evidence to the inquiry in 2010

During Prime Minister's Questions in the Commons, Mr Cameron said it was "extremely frustrating" that the report had not yet been published, but it would not be right for him to interfere with the independent inquiry.

He believed there was "no mystery" in the reasons for the delay and attacked Labour leader Ed Miliband, who he said had opposed the establishment of an inquiry when the idea had been previously put forward by the Conservatives.

Mr Miliband said the inquiry had been established six years ago, after combat operations ended, adding: "My views on Iraq are well known, and I want to see the inquiry published."

Mr Clegg said the public would assume the delay was caused by those criticised in the report attempting to "sex it down".

"The public have waited long enough and will find it incomprehensible that the report is not being published more rapidly than the open-ended timetable you have now set out," he said.

Although the inquiry has never publicly set a deadline for publication, it has been plagued by delays with lengthy wrangling over what documents can be included in the final report.


Analysis

Nick Robinson, BBC political editor

Delayed again. Until after the election. Very suspicious say those who fear a cover up of the decisions taken by Tony Blair's government which led the UK to join George W Bush's invasion of Iraq.

Nick Clegg - whose Liberal Democrat party opposed the war in the face of combined Labour and Conservative support for it - says that some will fear that the report of the Iraq Inquiry is being "sexed down".

Few if any of those facing criticism in the report will speak publicly but I've been speaking to those familiar with what's going on behind the scenes.

Read more from Nick


The inquiry reached an agreement last summer with the UK government in which it would be allowed to refer to the "gist" of conversations and private correspondence between former Prime Minister Tony Blair and former US President George W Bush.

Conservative former Attorney General Dominic Grieve told BBC News Sir John should explain the "sequencing" of the process to reassure MPs and the public.


The Iraq War

Image copyright AFP
  • The US-led invasion of Iraq started on 19 March 2003 with a "shock-and-awe" campaign intended as a show of force
  • The US and the UK claimed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction he was capable of using
  • The capital Baghdad fell in April and US President George W Bush declared "mission accomplished" weeks later
  • Saddam Hussein was captured, tried by the new Iraqi government and hanged. Insurgency continued
  • British forces ended combat operations in 2009 and the US did so the following year
  • A total of 179 UK service personnel and nearly 4,500 US soldiers were killed in the conflict
  • British-based organisation Iraq Body Count estimates 134,400 to 151,652 Iraqi civilians died since 2003, and United Nations estimates 18,805 between 2008-12 - all counts and estimates of Iraqi deaths are highly disputed
  • The Chilcot inquiry into the UK's role in the war was established by Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2009

SNP deputy leader Stewart Hosie said he was "deeply frustrated and incredibly disappointed" by the delay, while UKIP deputy chairwoman Suzanne Evans said it "reeks of a joint establishment cover-up".

She added: "This was a war that was waged in our name, using our money, and we deserve to know the answers."

Labour's shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said he was "shocked" at the delay, saying publication was taking an "inordinate" amount of time.

But his shadow cabinet colleague Rachel Reeves said politicians should not set "arbitrary deadlines and targets" for publication.

"We asked Sir John Chilcot to do the inquiry, I think that people have faith in him to do that independently - and we must wait until he judges that he has all the information to make the right verdict and to publish his report," she added.

Rose Gentle, whose soldier son Gordon was killed in Iraq in 2004, said families were "really frustrated" at the drawn-out process.

She added: "We just feel constantly let down. We can't get over something like this until we find out."

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Media captionRose Gentle, mother of fallen soldier Gordon Gentle: "We feel totally let down"

Mr Blair, one of more than 100 witnesses to have appeared before the inquiry, has insisted he is not responsible for the delays and wants the report to be made public as soon as possible.

Former Lib Dem Home Office minister Norman Baker said a backbench debate on the inquiry would still go ahead on Thursday next week.

The motion - sponsored by Mr Baker, David Davis, Fabian Hamilton and Caroline Lucas - calls for the inquiry to publish its findings by 12 February.

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