16 Dec 2009

Trouble lurks at the Iraq inquiry

Contrary to what you might imagine life in the Chilcot pressroom is not without moments of danger.

It’s not all Prue Leith coffee and scenic views of snow refusing to settle on Parliament Square. Beware, I beseech you, the “Hidden Zinger.”I’ve seen these before at terrorism trials (wearing my other hat, a currently less en vogue balaclava).

As evidence turns, say, to important-but-dull mobile phone signal analysis the court seems to get warmer, the eyelids heavier and, well, lesser mortals have been known to lose concentration.
Then *bang* an evidential bombshell – either real or metaphorical – and you’re, sorry they’re, left desperately struggling to catch up again.
Given John Sawers’s & Nigel Sheinwald’s Whitehall street-skillz hopes for an explosive afternoon weren’t high. Sir Nigel’s exhaustive breakdown of the ad hoc ministerial committee structure behind HMG’s 2003 Iraq strategy did little to change that.
Even when Sir John – now chief of MI6 – briefly confused Iran and Iraq only the tin-foil-hat conspiracists perked up. Just a little.
Which was dangerous because there were some strong lines buried away today.

Like when Sir John suddenly said that, “Had we known the scale of post-war violence frankly it might well have led to second thoughts about the whole [Iraq] project.”
Similarly, right at the end of evidence, when Lyne asked Sheinwald whether joining the US had been worth the high cost of lives lost and bodies mutilated. Even now, Sir Nigel said, that’s very hard to answer.
What has it done for our international reputation, Lyne went on. That’s hard to answer too, he replied; it depends to whom you’re talking and whether it is in public or private. Even in fluent Mandarinese this was troubling stuff.
So much so that 001 felt prompted to rappel in and join the fray. Whatever else one could say, Sawers interjected, “Iraq is a better place than it would otherwise have been.”
Chilcot can come up with some strange phrases at times (something to do with wringing a lemon behind a curtain comes to mind) but he closed tonight sounding genuinely heavy-hearted, “conscious of the cost that has been incurred by humankind.”
DfID witnesses tomorrow. Perhaps the only institution that’s taken a heavier pounding from witnesses to date is the Iraqi police force.
Which – given that they’ve been accused of everything from corruption to running murder squads (the cops, that is, not DfID; well not yet anyway) – isn’t saying very much.
Live Tweets at twitter.com/iraqinquiryblog from the pleasantly-late start time of 11h30.

Good night x