The official inquiry into Britain’s involvement in the invasion of Iraq has begun, promising a thorough investigation which could embarrass the government in the run-up to the next general election. Critics of the war say intelligence evidence was distorted to justify military action.
“We are not a court of law, nor are we an inquest or indeed a statutory inquiry, and our processes reflect that,” said Iraq Inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot. “No-one is on trial here, we cannot determine guilt or innocence, only courts can do that. But I make a commitment here that once we get to our final report, we will not shy away from making criticisms, either of institutions or processes or of individuals where they are truly warranted.” Most hearings will be held in public, but Sir John said some sessions may be in private when issues affecting national security are addressed. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair will give evidence, probably next year. He supported President Bush’s invasion, claiming Saddam Hussein could launch weapons of mass destruction at 45 minutes’ notice. No such weapons have ever been found. The war divided public opinion and sparked fierce criticism of the government. The one-time Foreign Secretary Robin Cook resigned over the issue. 45,000 British soldiers served in Iraq; 179 of them were killed. A million Iraqis are also thought to have died. The inquiry comes with Britain involved in another war, in Afghanistan, and suffering more casualties. It’s not known if Prime Minister Gordon Brown will be called to give evidence. The inquiry will not release its findings until well after the next election.