29 May 2014

Iraq Inquiry inches closer

The letter from Sir John Chilcot to the Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood shows two seasoned mandarins in slow motion protocol wrestling.

The retired one, Sir John, now turned investigator, is trying to extract the sort of top secret information he used to sit on as the Northern Ireland Office Permanent Secretary in the 1990’s.

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The younger one, Sir Jeremy, a worthy successor in the mandarin dynasty, is clinging on to the old rules Sir John used to preserve on confidentiality.

The end result is a compromise reached through a process of glacial pace.

Some are reporting this latest letter as “agreement reached on documents.” What they’ve actually agreed is “agreement on the principles” for what will be seen by us of the Tony Blair/George W. Bush phone call transcripts and notes of conversations.

The detail of what will be shared is something that will now be discussed.

There was a similar “principles” agreement on Cabinet minutes and what we could see of them.

It came around July 2013. It wasn’t until about five months later that the older and younger mandarin and their respective teams agreed what exactly would be redacted and what would be published.

The documents they’re now going to clear for (very) partial publication or paraphrasing are even more sensitive. Maybe they’ll get through this lot at breakneck speed but the precedents don’t suggest that.

And the agreement on these documents would then be followed by months of “Maxwellisation,” during which those criticised by the report are given the opportunity to read in advance and comment on the relevant passages.

Sir John makes mention in his letter of “some material received by the Inquiry very recently” which filled “some potential gaps in the material provided.”

That sounds like it might be a reference to the “with you … whatever” letter that Tony Blair was reported to have sent to George W. Bush

Anyway, progress towards publication – but you would be very unwise to hold your breath.

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