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Iraq war inquiry due to begin public hearings

The Iraq war inquiry’s public hearings begin in London with top civil servants and a former spy chief giving evidence on the conflict’s origins. The investigation, looking at the whole period from 2001 to 2009, is expected to last months, with a report not out until after the next general election.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair will be among the future witnesses. Tuesday’s session looks at UK foreign policy towards Iraq in the lead-up to the war, which began in 2003. The long-awaited inquiry will begin with a statement from its chairman, Sir John Chilcot.

It will then hear from figures including Sir Peter Ricketts, who was the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee – which oversees MI5, MI6 and GCHQ – from 2000 to 2001. Others giving evidence are former senior Ministry of Defence official Simon Webb and ex-Foreign Office officials Sir Michael Wood and Sir William Patey.

Controversial dossier

The members of the inquiry’s committee were chosen by Downing Street, leading critics to ask whether it can be independent of the government. Sir John has insisted the inquiry will not produce a “whitewash” but critics have expressed concern about the lack of legal experts on the panel and the fact witnesses will not be questioned on oath.

On Wednesday, the panel will hear from former senior Foreign Office staff on the claims that Saddam Hussein’s regime possessed “weapons of mass destruction”. Over the coming weeks the inquiry is expected to hear from a succession of diplomats, military officers and politicians, including Mr Blair, who is due to appear early in the new year.

Sir John Scarlett, the former chief of MI6 who as chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee in 2002 drew up the Government’s controversial dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, is also due to give evidence to the five-strong inquiry panel.

‘The truth’

Former Conservative leader Michael Howard said he would have preferred witnesses to be required to give evidence on oath. However, he said the inquiry would be broader than other past investigations into aspects of the Iraq conflict and may unearth evidence that had so far not come to light.

“I hope what we get out of Chilcot is the truth. That is what people yearn for,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today. Lord Falconer, the former Lord Chancellor, said it was important the inquiry had access to all documents covering the run-up to the war.

“There needs to be some definitive view about what happened.” Despite the fact that no weapons of mass destruction were discovered in Iraq after the invasion, he insisted previous inquiries had said Tony Blair had acted in good faith in his justification for the war.

The BBC’s Jim Muir, in Iraq, said people there appeared to be “bemused by the sight of the Western powers dissecting the decisions that were taken… as one politician put it, it’s not at all relevant to Iraq today”. The war resulted in the deaths of 179 UK forces personnel.

Previously, the Butler inquiry looked at intelligence failures before the war, while the Hutton inquiry examined the circumstances leading to the death of former government adviser David Kelly. Sir John Chilcot has said he hopes to complete his final report by the end of next year, although he has warned it could slip into 2011.

Source: BBC

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