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The Chilcot Report and the use of inquiries for research

Written by Louise Kettle.

On Wednesday 6th July the Iraq Inquiry’s report will finally come to light. Seven years after investigations began the 2.6 million word report will be published in twelve volumes and is expected to establish what happened in the planning and throughout the Iraq War. It is hoped that this will provide answers for families of those who lost loved ones in Iraq and lessons to be learned for all future governments.

In addition to these outcomes the report will provide invaluable insights for researchers interested in Tony Blair and his government’s handling of the Iraq War. Whilst archives, such as The National Archives at Kew, also offer a behind the scenes glimpse at the inner workings of government, researchers have to wait 30 years (currently transitioning down to 20 years) for documents to be publicly released. Inquiries, on the other hand, provide instant and easy (often online) access to contemporary sources without the prolonged process of a Freedom of Information request.

In fact, the examination of inquiries often offers a fruitful research source for contemporary issues. Parliament’s Select Committee inquiries, for example, cover a whole range of current political and economic topics and many record their witness hearings for online viewing. Hearings are often criticised for being full of polite formalities, plagued by time restrictions and failing to ask penetrating and challenging questions. However, they also offer a method for gaining a deeper understanding of policy-maker’s ideas and rationales. They deliver prompt, relevant data for analysis without having to organise interviews with busy practitioners.

Independent inquiries also offer a source for mining. When another Iraq related inquiry – Lord Butler’s Review on Weapons of Mass Destruction – published its report in 2004 researchers gained unprecedented access into the world of intelligence. This included declassified sections of intelligence assessments and led to a flurry of academic publications. Similarly, Lord Franks’ Falkland Islands Review of 1983 provided an insight into the run-up to the invasion of the Falkland Islands decades before any official documents were released to the public.

The Iraq Inquiry looks to be no different. Even before the publication of the report researchers have been provided with valuable data. 21 weeks’ worth of oral and written evidence from 129 senior politicians and officials is already available to view on the inquiry’s website. In addition, over 220 documents have been declassified and are available to download including documents from the Cabinet Office, No10 and MI6 on everything from working with the Americans to post-war planning.

When the report itself emerges the hope is that even more data will be revealed. It is expected to examine the role of the Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers and intelligence chiefs in the run-up to war. In addition, as much effort has been placed upon security and intelligence services checks, there is a presumption that further documents will be declassified and published within the report. Although many documents will not be included (over 150,000 documents are claimed to have been analysed) and some will not be published in full (notably only the “gist” of exchanges between Blair and Bush will be included) further sources will provide researchers with new insights into the controversial, prolonged and bloody war which has shaped the security of a generation. As a result, it is hoped that academia can contribute to an understanding of events which will help in the learning of lessons for the future. We will know for sure on 6th July.

Dr Louise Kettle will be live tweeting on the Iraq Inquiry report on 6th July @LouiseSKettle. Image credit: Screencap/Youtube.

Published inAcademic ImpactBritish PoliticsConflict & SecurityMiddle East & North Africa

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