4 Feb 2015

Will the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war ever be published?

So today MPs finally debate the non-appearance of the Chilcot report into Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war, 1,463 days since it last took evidence.

Even in the time that has elapsed since it was set up in June 2009, the consequences of the fateful decision to go to war against the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein have become ever more daunting.

The war itself cost at least 100,000 lives, and almost certainly many more. Some 4m people are reported to have been displaced by the bombing from the air, and the fighting on the ground.

Worse, the war itself effectively destroyed both the will and the capacity of the world to deal with the subsequent events in neighbouring Syria.

The Chilcot inquiry is what many might regard as effectively an inquiry by the British establishment.


All five of the appointed inquiry team were titled – four knights and a Baroness. Only one was educated in a state school. All but one has an Oxbridge background.

One of their number, Sir Martin Gilbert, had to withdraw from the inquiry as a result of ill health. He sadly died last night.

The chair, Sir John Chilcot, was the permanent secretary of the Northern Ireland Office during the critical period of peace consolidation in the province.

But even he can never have anticipated the six years of toil, obfuscation and delay that would surround his efforts in trying to penetrate the truth surrounding Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war.

In the period that the Inquiry has sat, the invasion of Iraq has come to be seen by many as one of the most disastrous political and military misjudgements since the end of the Second World War — an epithet previously long held by the British government’s decision in 1956 to invade Suez.

The Iraq war provided the midwife for the eruption of the Islamic State group.

The war also destroyed Iraq’s borders set by the British in 1926. It appears unlikely that the Iraq conceived and established then will ever be restored.

A failed war

I was one of a number of journalists who reported from Iraq in the 1980s and 90s. I witnessed the Iran/Iraq War in that period from both sides.

Like many, I was well aware of the tender balances, inter-marriages and tensions between the Sunni and Shia Muslims who populated Iraq. They have been shattered.

Indeed the tensions between Shia Islam led by Iran, and the Sunni Islam led by Saudi Arabia are now as bad as at any time in history.

There is then much at stake as MPs try to find out why the investigation into Britain’s decision to go to war remains unpublished.

It will be no comfort to those British families who lost loved ones on the Iraqi battle field to have to face the reality that the war is rapidly becoming seen as a military and strategic failure.

The absence of the Chilcot report merely compounds the pain. It will be no comfort to the British citizen to note that the war itself cost us all some £40bn.

This is a dark time in the history of our democratic processes. It is hard to see how today’s debate will lighten it.

Follow @jonsnowC4 on Twitter

Tweets by @jonsnowC4