Written by Louise Kettle
Since 23rd June British politics has been focused on the fallout from Brexit, but this week another tremor will be hitting the establishment. On Wednesday the long awaited Iraq Inquiry report will be published. So what should we expect?
- A long read
The inquiry into the Iraq War has lasted longer than the war itself. Announced in June 2009 it began hearing evidence in November of the same year. It had the huge scope of examining the run-up to the war, the military action and its aftermath and was tasked with establishing what happened during this time and what lessons could be learned for the future.
The report is therefore a culmination of seven years work, broad terms of reference and a substantial inquiry process. Over 150,000 documents have been examined, 21 weeks’ worth of oral evidence taken from 129 senior politicians and officials given in public and at least 50 individuals have been seen in private. As a result, the report will be a hefty document; 2.6 million words in 12 volumes – over four times the length of Leo Tolstoy’s epic War and Peace.
There has been widespread speculation over whether the report could lead to charges of war crimes against Tony Blair. The inquiry has been clear that it is “not a court of law”, nobody is on trial and the committee are not judges. Nonetheless the committee have also advised that if mistakes were made then they will be exposed in the report. Therefore it is extremely likely that the former Prime Minister will come under some criticism, especially since he appears to have been on a pre-emptive public relations campaign of late.
However, it is also expected that Blair will not take the “blame” alone. The “Maxwellisation” process – allowing those criticised by the report an opportunity to comment on early drafts – supposedly included around 30 individuals. Criticism is expected of Blair’s Cabinet colleagues (Jack Straw, Geoff Hoon, Clare Short), intelligence heads (Sir Richard Dearlove, Sir John Scarlett) and senior figures at the Ministry of Defence (General Sir Nicholas Houghton, General Sir Mike Jackson). The Foreign and Commonwealth Office may also receive some knuckle-wrapping over its Iraq War record keeping but foreign policy was essentially being conducted from No10 during this time.
- Lessons for the future
Ever since the war Iraq has loomed over foreign, defence and security decisions. Many politicians and policy-makers have long since drawn their own lessons from the experience – most recently observed in the vote on Syrian air strikes. However, part of the inquiry’s remit will be to formalise some lessons for the future. These may include identifying failings which have been widely debated – the collecting and communicating of intelligence or post-war planning, funding and commitment – and those which have been less so – the possibility of reviving the UN resolution or the negative impact of No10’s isolation from Whitehall in creating policy.
Whilst these lessons will be extremely important so will be any reflection upon the aftermath of the war. It is as yet unclear whether Chilcot will venture into the link between the Iraq War, radicalisation and the violence which continues to be experienced in the region but if he does this will be an important recognition of the consequences of British actions.
- Political fall out
The report will have widespread repercussions for a political system which is already in turmoil. It is clear that the publication will have an impact for any residual members of New Labour but the Labour party had been trying to reconcile Blair and Corbyn’s positions to avoid a post-Chilcot civil war (one which has not been avoided post-referendum). In fact, there is some speculation that part of Corbyn’s decision to hang on to the Labour leadership has been for the post-Chilcot parliamentary debate in which he wants to formally apologise for the Iraq War.
At the same time, the Conservatives – a day after the first round of leadership elections – will be keen to capitalise on this split and use it, along with a debate on Trident, as a distraction from the blue-on-blue attacks seen during the referendum campaigning and to shift focus to the deep divides within the Labour party.
For the Liberal Democrats, the publication of the report provides an opportunity to regain a voice. As the party that voted against the Iraq War – a decision which many argue contributed to their gains in parliamentary seats in 2005 and 2010 – the party is keen not to allow Jeremy Corbyn to lead the anti-war charge. Consequently, Lib Dems have already demanded a two day debate on the findings.
It is clear that whatever is published in the report will be a lightning rod for many other issues and add to the existing intra-party complexities and fighting. It may also have an impact on Britain’s foreign relations – particularly with the United States and the Middle East region – and its defence and security policy. We will find out for certain on Wednesday.