Iraq inquiry will not find on legality of invasion

 

THE INQUIRY into the Iraq invasion, which begins in London tomorrow, will not adjudicate on whether it was legal or not, its head, former top civil servant Sir John Chilcot, has said.

The inquiry, which will not report until the end of 2010, will focus on whether it was “a wise decision, was it well-taken, was it founded on good advice and good information and analysis”, he said.

Three senior diplomats, Simon Webb, Peter Ricketts and William Patey, who was the UK’s ambassador in Baghdad in 2006/7, will be the first witnesses when hearings begin this morning.

Weapons experts Tim Dowse and William Ehrman are to give evidence this week, along with former British ambassador to Washington Christopher Meyer and Jeremy Greenstock, the UK’s man at the United Nations.

Sir John said he hoped to give the public definitive answers on why the UK went to war, “but not definitive in the sense of a court verdict of legal or illegal”.

He rejected criticism that the inquiry team, appointed by prime minister Gordon Brown and drawn from former senior officials and military historians, is not independent. “You can’t make up a body like this from people who have no experience of the workings of government from the inside,” he said. “When you set up an independent inquiry of this sort, you set the members of it free to do what they will.”

The team will not produce “a whitewash”, he told BBC Radio 4’s Todayprogramme. “Our determination is to do not merely a thorough job, but one which is frank and will bear public scrutiny.”

The inquiry’s opening has been overshadowed by the leak of confidential ministry of defence papers, which leave in doubt former prime minister Tony Blair’s declaration that he did not decide to go to war until 2003. The papers reveal tensions between top US and British military officers, one of whom complained that the Americans treated the British “no differently to the Portuguese”.

Families of British soldiers killed in Iraq travelled to London yesterday for the opening session of the inquiry, which will be held largely in public and which will hear evidence later in the year.

One of the mothers of the dead, Rose Gentle from Glasgow, whose son Gordon (19) was killed in Basra in 2004, said she was “actually a bit relieved that it is actually starting to happen”.

“We have waited five years for this. It has been a long fight. Some mornings, I did say, what is the point, and then other mornings I thought, no, I have started it, I may as well go through with it. It has been hard.”

The families need to “know the truth. We really need to know why we did go in there. The other families are quite happy it has actually started. They are all a bit nervous as we don’t know what the outcome is going to be,” she said.

Some parents have already given evidence in private to the inquiry. One, Elsie Manning from South Shields, said: “I hope the truth comes out and that those responsible are brought to book.”

Her daughter, Staff Sgt Sharron Elliott (34) was the first female soldier to die in Iraq in a bomb blast in 2006 while on a patrol boat.