As published in the Sunday Times:
Forget Britain’s blushes. Give us the truth about Iraq
The Iraq War claimed the lives of more than 100,000 soldiers and civilians. The country’s infrastructure was destroyed, huge amounts of the West’s political capital were spent and what is in effect a long-running civil war was precipitated. It was because of this disastrous toll that the Labour government under Gordon Brown set up the Chilcot inquiry to investigate the causes of the war, the war itself and the aftermath.
The inquiry has now been running for more than 2,000 days. The total cost is expected to exceed £10m. More than 120 witnesses have given public evidence. But as yet the inquiry has reported nothing.
We are no more enlightened as to the failures in the lead-up to, during and after the Iraq War than we were in 2009 when Brown initiated the inquiry. Only last week the distinguished former foreign secretary Lord Hurd described this as a scandal.
The current state of affairs is utterly unacceptable. Whatever the holdups and political wranglings that are delaying the publication of the inquiry’s report, the time has come to publish or be damned.
The suggestion that the report will be delayed until after the election, if it is not ready to be published by the end of February, further damages the inquiry’s credibility and undermines the final report.
The fact is that both main parties, and the current prime minister, voted in favour of invading Iraq in 2003. A desire for the inquiry to publish is not a party political point or even an election gambit.
That being said, voters should be able to ask all the parties how they would act should a situation similar to that in the run-up to the Iraq War arise and should be able to ask such questions with all the facts in front of them.
The greatest concern is that the report is being delayed to cover any embarrassing revelations about our relationship with the United States. Were this to be true it would make the inquiry an essentially pointless exercise. The whole purpose of setting up such an inquiry is to uncover, examine and learn from the mistakes we have made. To avoid them would be foolish.
In the case of the Iraq War, this is of particular importance. The foreign policy implications of going to war in 2003, and the consequences for our global standing and the geopolitical situation in the Middle East, have been profound. We have only recently finally left Afghanistan and even now we are still militarily involved in Iraq. It is imperative that we know the facts behind the greatest foreign policy failure of this generation.
It is not just the families of those lost in the military conflict that deserve to have their questions answered, although it is well past time for them to receive the answers they long for. The whole country can move on and purge the spectre of Iraq only through knowing what happened in its entirety. Truth and reconciliation first require the truth.
The Salmon letters, giving official notice to those who are to be criticised in the report, have gone out and the Maxwellisation process is well under way. Those due to receive criticism must not be allowed to hold back the publication and should be told that they have until the end of January to make whatever response they desire to make.
The right of reply is an important part of the inquiry process, but after five years there has been ample time and there is no good reason to delay the full report any further.
The perception of politicians and elites colluding to hide the truth from the public is damaging to all parties at a time when politicians are already held in poor regard.
Of course there will be consequences to the report. In the lead-up to the Iraq War we were in uncharted political and diplomatic waters and it is inevitable that mistakes were made. Similarly there is likely to be embarrassment over the publication of sensitive communications between us and our close allies, in particular the United States.
This is unfortunate and there are strong arguments in favour of secrecy in some areas of diplomacy, but we cannot allow the sensibilities of our allies, or our current or past politicians, to delay such an important publication any further.
In any event this is not about personal culpability, of pinning the blame on a small group of individuals, but of collective and systemic failure. It is time to face up to whatever mistakes were made as a nation and consider how best we can avoid them in the future. Whatever the ramifications, it is time to reveal the truth.