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Q&A: Iraq war inquiry

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 30 July 2009

Sir John Chilcot has launched the long-awaited inquiry into the war in Iraq that he is leading. But who is he and what will his inquiry do?

Sir John Chilcot launching his Iraq war inquiry

Who is Sir John Chilcot?
Sir John is an intelligence expert who was the top civil servant in the Northern Ireland Office and a member of Lord Butler's 2004 inquiry into Iraq war intelligence.

It was Lord Butler's report which said evidence of weapons of mass destruction that could be fired at the UK within "45 minutes", described as "extensive and authoritative" by Tony Blair in justifying the war, was in fact "sporadic and patchy".

The other members of the inquiry team are: Baroness Usha Prashar, Sir Roderick Lyne, Sir Lawrence Freedman and Sir Martin Gilbert.

How long will the inquiry take?
The prime minister has said that "given the complexity of the issues" it would take a year, meaning that its conclusions will not be published until next July at the earliest.

That is after the last possible date for the next general election, leading Tory leader David Cameron and other critics to suggest it has been fixed by the Government to avoid "facing up to any inconvenient conclusions".

What will it look at?
The inquiry is expected to look at an eight-year period from summer 2001 to July 2009, taking in the build-up to the invasion and the intelligence used to justify it, the March 2003 conflict itself and the aftermath right up to this year's withdrawal of UK troops.

It has been promised access to "the fullest range of information, including secret information" and will be able to call on any British documents and witnesses.

Launching the inquiry, he said the panel had already requested Government documents to begin the task of identifying "the critical issues on which to focus" with the help of legal, military and reconstruction experts.

Will it give any new information?
Sir John has been consulting with the leaders of political parties and others directly affected by the conflict, such as bereaved relatives of service personnel, in drawing up the details of the inquiry.

Bereaved families of those who died during the conflict and others "seriously affected", including veterans' groups, would be among the first to make their feelings known to the inquiry and arrangements are already in hand to meet them "as soon as practicable", he said at the launch.

He is also expected to call former prime minister Tony Blair to give evidence.

Will it be held in public?
At the launch of the inquiry, Sir John repeated his insistence that, "wherever possible", evidence would be heard in public, perhaps live on television, but some sessions would remain behind closed doors, "consistent with the need to protect national security, sometimes to ensure complete candour and openness from witnesses".

Sir John has previously stated that he feels it "essential" that as much evidence as possible is heard in public, after Prime Minister Gordon Brown was forced to abandon plans for a behind-closed-doors probe.

In a letter to Mr Brown, he said: "I believe it will be essential to hold as much of the proceedings of the inquiry as possible in public, consistent with the need to protect national security and to ensure and enable complete candour in the oral and written evidence from witnesses."

Sir John has also been looking into ways to put witnesses under some form of "oath".

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